Buchanan citizens voice opposition of proposed school closingPublished 10:34am Tuesday, January 19, 2010
By KATIE JOHNSON
Niles Daily Star
BUCHANAN – Kelly Shreve is “disturbed” by the news her elementary school alma mater may shutter its doors.
“Stark really laid down the foundation for my life,” she said through sobs Monday night. “And I’m not the only one who thinks that.
“It’s a beloved place,” she said.
The message from citizens to the Buchanan Board of Education meeting was clear – spare Stark Elementary School.
In an emotion-filled meeting in the Moccasin Elementary School library fueled by fliers circulating about Stark, citizens filled the hallway and sat on the floor as they listened to the superintendent’s explanation as to why Buchanan Community Schools could downsize its buildings from five to four.
Ginger Smith, who has a daughter enrolled at Ottawa Elementary, said the board should “think of our children’s futures.”
“You’ve got children with ADHD,” she said. “You’ve got children with learning disabilities. Tighten the belt – we have to. We’re a fat nation. We’ve got too much pork, and our children are the barbecue sauce.”
Board president John Colip assured the crowd any decision would not be easy.
“Many of us on the board have ties to Stark School,” he said. “There’s no intent to do something that’s not socially acceptable to the community.”
Superintendent Diana Davis explained to the crowd how the board established a Facilities Study Committee comprised of 25 community members to review the district’s aging buildings. The last study was conducted 15 years ago; methods of instruction and means of technology have changed dramatically in that time.
The committee members were given no background, research material or guidance. They were told only to ask questions.
The committee met 42 times, toured each building thoroughly and conducted three community meetings.
“As they put it, they saw the good, the bad and the ugly,” Davis said. “They saw it all.”
Taking into consideration other non-structural issues like finances and enrollment changes, they presented their findings to the school board Aug. 24, 2009. There is no timeline or start date for the plan.
The committee’s recommendations were:
• Maintain the high school as a 9-12 school, with some technology upgrades. Although BHS was built in 1922, in was partially renovated 15 years ago and is the best building structurally of the five.
• Renovate Buchanan Middle School to include grades 5-8 in grade level centers, with some technology upgrades. Grades 5-6 and 7-8 would be separated, with a shared common space.
• Renovate Ottawa Elementary School for grades 3-4 and Moccasin for pre-K through 2.
Stark would be the hardest to upgrade technology-wise, David said; therefore, it was recommended for closure.
No staff would be cut under the proposed plan.
“This plan would not be a cause for layoffs,” Davis explained. “A lack of funding from the state would be a cause for layoffs.”
Colip said the schools suffered a $265 per-pupil cut from the state last year, and the state is threatening another $265 per-pupil decrease soon, although they don’t know when or if it will happen.
Colip explained that closing Stark could save the district at least $150,000 per year, money that could go toward general fund expenditures like technology upgrades, salaries and supplies. If completed soon, the project would cost 2.8 mils.
The project can only pass if the voters approve it. For a home with a market value of $60,000, that could raise property taxes $7 per month; a $100,000 home, $11.67; and a $200,000 home, $23.33.
Citizens questioned whether the project could deter parents from choosing Buchanan, especially taking into consideration the Schools of Choice option.
Enrollment decreased 3 percent last year, lower than expected. It is expected to continue to decrease by 1 percent each year for several years.
Many questions remained unanswered Monday night, such as when the project will be approved by the school board; how big could class sizes be with the proposed plan; and what will happen if the vote fails.
“It’s impossible to know,” Davis responded when asked how big classes could be. “I don’t think there’re any guarantees about tomorrow for anybody.”
Future school board meetings, as always, will be posted at the high school and on the school’s Web site in advance. Citizens are encouraged to inquire at the superintendent’s office for further budget information and to submit questions.
“This is a community situation,” Colip said. “We ought to have community solutions. It’s wonderful that you care.”