Franklin and Grandview Elementary Schools have received a reprieve.
The Unified School District 475 Board of Education voted in its regular session Thursday night not to close the two elementary schools, both of which had been on the chopping block.
The schools’ fates were in question because the district needs to cut the amount of money spent per pupil in order to qualify for federal heavy impact aid, a form of financial relief granted districts such as USD 475 that are heavily impacted by the presence of a military base.
The decision was made in part due to concerns surrounding the spread of COVID-19.
Board member Ron Johnson said he felt the matter had been rushed,
“It just felt rushed will all the potential for where we could save money and where we could reappropriate money,” he said. “It’s just kind of funny. It’s not even — it’s just moving money. It’s having the YMCA take over a program, this and that. We knew this would be a very emotional issue in all our schools. We have phenomenal facilities. We have wonderful staff. But at this point, with not knowing what we’re going to have to deal with next year, the numbers changing every single day, it did feel rushed to me and I’m glad that we’re reconsidering this and putting it off at the moment. Who knows of this will take six months, a year or two years to work through the current pandemic. I’m proud of the direction we’re going in looking at every single penny in the budget and how those pennies are applied.”
Board member Anwar Khoury agreed, saying the district needed a longterm plan that could include school closures rather than trying to make a decision about the two facilities in question over the space of two or three weeks.
“I think this is in the right direction right now,” he said.
Concerns over COVID-19 played a factor in the choice to spare the two elementary schools for now.
Board member Kristy Haden agreed the board was moving too fast, mentioning past discussion of the Larry Dixon Center and the possibility of moving the staff and services of that facility to another building. It was hard enough, Hayden said, to consider that and even harder to consider doing such a thing with school buildings full of students.
Adding the uncertainty of next year’s school year into the mix only complicated the issue further, she said, since students and guardians in the district are already being granted a choice to do e-learning or brick and mortar school next semester.
“That splitting up of students already and not knowing where anybody’s going to be in August — I think this is moving way too fast and I don’t like it,” she said.
Hayden said she wanted the board to take its time with the decision to make sure it was the right one.
A common parent complaint at a public meeting regarding the possible school closures was that it was too fast, with the new school year just around the corner and so much uncertainty surrounding the coming year. COVID-19 is still a problem and likely will be into the new school year.
Board President Rina Neal was one of the board members who attended the parent meeting at Franklin Elementary School. She said she drew information from the discussion about the district’s spending across the board.
“We have to pay attention to how we are spending money district-wide, as the board,” she said. “How we are spending is inequitable across the district as a whole. We have to pay attention to our student count in our classrooms. These are all things that were brought up by parents.”
The public hearings regarding the two schools, scheduled for July 13 and 14, have also been canceled.
USD 475 plans to seek other ways to decrease spending and will continue to pursue heavy impact aid.