Archive for Thursday, December 30, 2010

Rural schools closings voted as top 2010 story

December 30, 2010

Baldwin City’s top story of 2010 dominated headlines Baldwin City Signal for nearly 11 months.

On Dec. 13, the USD 348 Board of Education voted 5-2 to close the two rural elementary schools at the end of the 2010-2011 school year. Board members Blaine Cone and Ruth Barkley opposed the motion to close Marion Springs and Vinland elementary schools.

“I think it was a tough decision for the board to make,” Superintendent Paul Dorathy said. “I know a lot of them put a lot of time and work into fully understanding all of the information and all of the different aspects of the issue. They also heard from multitudes of people as they went along to make their decision.”

The decision was a tough one for school board members, even after months of discussion and input from patrons on both sides of the issue. At the Dec. 13 meeting, the board again talked about the proposal to close the schools.

“We can’t keep doing the same things with less,” School Board President Alison Bauer said at the meeting. “We’ve been continually cut from the state and we’ve made cuts everywhere, but we can’t keep doing that. I feel like Mr. Dorathy made a difficult and painful recommendation to us.”

It was the threat of more state budget cuts that brought the issue to the school board nearly a year ago. Since 2007, the district has made more than $1.1 million in cuts and reallocated nearly $400,000 for health insurance. More budget cuts from the state are predicted in 2011.

“We have to be more efficient,” Board member Scott Lauridsen said at the Dec. 13 meeting. “I support what’s in front of us right now, strictly for budgetary reasons. I’ve never wanted to do this, but I think we have to right now.”

The school board formed a fact-finding committee in December 2009 to look at all large cost-savings ideas. After months of research, the fact-finding report was presented to the board in the spring.

There were a handful of patrons who spoke to the school board about closing the two rural elementary schools. However, the number of patrons speaking during the public comment of the monthly meetings, greatly increased once the fact-finding committee report was released in late March.

During the next several months, dozens of patrons voiced their opinions to the school board at meeting, through emails or phone calls.

“People on both sides were very passionate about this issue,” Dorathy said. “It made for a quite an emotional decision in the end. The decision was based on the numbers and what it was going to do for our budget as we move forward.”

The school board had a public hearing on the proposal on Nov. 11. It drew a large crowd in the Baldwin Junior High School auditorium, and 25 patrons spoke at the hearing.

After the hearing, patrons on both sides were ready for a decision. The vote was made and now MSES and VES will be open until the school year ends in late May.

“The most important thing now is working on the transition for children in this district,” Dorathy said. “We want to make sure this comes out as positive as we can make it, based on the situation that we are in. We need to make sure the transition works best for all of the students in this district.”

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