School closure options discussed

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 2, 1999

District staff, school board members and community residents attempted to clarify any misperceptions as an alternative school closure plan was discussed Monday.

Tuesday, November 02, 1999

District staff, school board members and community residents attempted to clarify any misperceptions as an alternative school closure plan was discussed Monday.

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Instead of closing Brookside Middle School to students next year, the alternate plan would restructure the district to include three K-4 elementary buildings, one fifth- and sixth-grade intermediate building, one 7-8 middle school and one 9-12 high school.

The school board recommended closing the Brookside building to students next year, moving sixth-graders to the elementary schools, establishing a seventh- and eighth-grade middle school at what’s now Southwest Junior High and moving ninth-graders to the new high school.

While both plans would reduce the number of K-12 buildings from seven to six, both plans will only close the current high school, said Jolinda Schreiber, one of an estimated 80 people who packed the school board meeting.

&uot;We’re trying to find the best use of the buildings,&uot; said Schreiber, a parent volunteer who worked with a staff committee to develop the alternate plan. &uot;If we choose to move our children, we will still have our buildings.&uot;

Any building closed to students would still house community education, special services, district offices and maintenance.

But closing a school to K-12 students is necessary because of a continuing decline in enrollment, 100-students last year and an additional 100-student decline projected this school year; the district receives about $5,000 per student in state aid. While a demographer is projecting an additional 1,000 student drop in 10 years, both plans only address current needs.

Closing Brookside to students will reduce the district’s budget by about $500,000. An additional $400,000 in cuts are necessary to meet the current proposed budget.

The alternative

Representing the staff and community committee – nine parents also contributed – Sibley Elementary School teacher Peggy Bennett said the alternative plan was created because of a concern for a loss in quality programs.

&uot;Our district has been dealt a lemon in closing a school for financial reasons,&uot; Bennett said.

&uot;What we’re proposing is to take that lemon and make lemonade. We’re not proposing that any building be closed. That’s the job of the school board.&uot;

Their plan would allow teachers and staff to better focus on the educational, emotional and social needs of fifth- and sixth-graders; moving sixth-graders back to the elementary schools would negatively affect their social and emotional development, she said.

&uot;Sixth-graders are a breed into themselves,&uot; added sixth-grade teacher Kyle Marie Milliron. &uot;We need to address their social and emotional need. … It’s better to focus on individual needs.&uot;

Because students are maturing at earlier levels, Milliron said moving fifth-grade students to an intermediate school would also benefit their development.

The move from an intermediate school to what would become Southwest Middle would also become an easier move for the preadolescent students, Bennett added.

The district has also developed a sixth-grade reading program and individual plan for the sixth- and fifth-grades, which the alternative plan would continue.

&uot;The loss of that would be a great loss for our district,&uot; said Bennett, adding the alternative wasn’t proposed to save the jobs of sixth-grade teachers. These teachers are tenured and will likely stay in the district regardless of what plan is approved.

While the positive aspects of the board recommendation haven’t been completely discussed, the alternative will allow more K-4 time in the elementary computer labs. Space for learning materials would also increase in the elementary labs with fifth-grade materials moved to another building.

In addition Bennett said of some of the alternative pros, teachers in the elementary buildings, the intermediate school and the middle school will have more opportunities to focus their efforts with more grade levels in the buildings.

All after school, art music and special education opportunities would also become easier with the alternative plan with more students in specified grades in each building.

There are more potential gains with the alternative plan, but there are also potential negatives.

It’s not yet known whether the alternative will reduce the district’s budget appropriately, said Superintendent David Prescott; closing Brookside to students will reduce the district’s budget more than closing an elementary school. Financial comparisons are also not yet known.

The K-4 building would also lose some building technology coordinators; two such staff members are current fifth-grade teachers. With more grade levels in each building, the time teachers spend with other teachers preparing curriculum would also decrease.

Other cons: loss of fifth-grade role models in the new K-4 buildings, reboundaring all the elementary schools and additional transportation and rewiring costs.

&uot;We’re asking that this plan be put on the table with the current plan,&uot; Bennett told the school board.

A final decision should come in January.