Tuesday night, the Unified School District 475 Board of Education held a meeting where it discussed the possibility of closing two of the district’s elementary schools — Franklin Elementary School and Grandview Elementary School.
The board also talked about closing the Larry Dixon Center, but will not need a public hearing to do that, because it’s not a school building. The administrative staff who work there, according board member Jim Schmidt during the meeting.
Closing the schools would save money for USD 475, which it must do to qualify for heavy impact aid, federal funds distributed to districts such as USD 475 every year, as indicated by Schmidt.
According to Schmidt, the schools in question were chosen due to overall student population and overall cost per student.
He said, in order to qualify for heavy impact aid, the district’s expenditures per student cannot go above the state average.
“The district has already taken some steps to start us down that path,” Schmidt said. "Some efforts have been made as far as savings at the textbook level on some building supplies, substitutes — there's been some efforts done on travel and professional development. Keep in mind that we've got district goals that we have to align those expenses with. And then obviously, the normalization of staffing, specifically Jefferson Elementary.”
District CFO Marilee Fredricks addressed the board Tuesday night.
She said it was hard to know what the future held, funding-wise, because of COVID-19.
“That throws a kind of a stick in it makes a little harder for us,” she said.
Board member Dr. Anwar Khoury was adamantly against the suggested school closures and the way the district had chosen to go about the process of discussing the possible closures.
The district was, he said, trying to go about the closures too quickly, especially for such a small community.
“The issue with with closing the school, as you know, is a very emotional subject,” he said. "We all know that. But I feel this is a time that has been very abrupt, very hasty, and without long term planning. We cannot just close a school in two weeks. This is just unheard of.”
Khoury said he wanted the district to analyze its expenditures on students and make cuts elsewhere if possible to bring those expenditures to where they needed to be to qualify for heavy impact aid.
"If it means whatever raises we give, we don't give this year if we bought a million dollars in technology, we don't do that,” he said. "This is where we go first, before we go and, say, get everybody riled up that we're going to close a school and everybody's going bananas in this town.”
Khoury suggested the district might not even have that strong a need for the impact aid its angling for in discussing the closure of two schools. The district would still receive some impact aid, just not the amount it usually does.
Khoury expressed concern over the teachers who work in these buildings and what might happen to them
According to the district, no staff would be laid off if the schools were to close. Instead, they’d be allowed to take jobs elsewhere in the district, if they so chose.
Teacher contracts are not set in stone as of yet for USD 475, so that wouldn’t be impacted by the decision to close a school building.
However, Khoury said, teachers had likely begun making lesson plans for the coming year and he wondered where this would leave them.
Students from these schools would be transferred elsewhere if their buildings were to close.
Board member Sarah Talley spoke up about the uncertainty of the budget.
“We have no clue what the revenue is going to be,” she said. "We can have a very nice, sound budget at the state level, but the state may not receive the revenues to support that budget. And that's probably one of the biggest ‘ifs' that we have right now. And no one has the answer to that. But I think if you if you do the math, and you listen to what's going on, it's a rocky time right now and I think, you know, as far as being able to say, when is a good time and when is not a good time, a lot of what we're doing in sharing tonight —and what we've been doing as a board — has been preparation for the downsizing of our students, the lack of revenue from state or the changing in the revenue disbursement and then looking very close and hard at our practices. And I think one thing we should never leave out is that when we looked at our practices as a board, one of the things that we saw was a lack of student performance. We were not where we wanted to be and we wanted to have students performing at a greater level ... So I think it hasn't just been numbers and and I know it's emotional and I know it's hard, but there's a lot of factors that weigh into this.”
Talley said she would like to see the district begin a regular practice of examining its expenditures in this manner and doing what it can to save money.
The district voted 6-1 in favor of holding public hearings for the closing of each school, with Khoury casting the dissenting vote.
The hearing will take place at 6:30 p.m. July 13 and 14, respectively.
No decision on the closing of either Grandview Elementary School or Franklin Elementary School was made during Tuesday evening’s meeting.