Patrons, board debate school consolidation again
Four weeks ago, Baldwin School District patrons voiced their opinions about consolidating the four elementary schools.
At the end of the night, the school board members never took a vote on the subject. The school board approved other budget-cutting items on May 10 to avoid possibly closing one of the rural elementary schools.
“These cuts don’t include closing a building or cutting seventh grade sports,” Supt. Paul Dorathy said May 10. “It also doesn’t change the school calendar for next year.”
However, the debate was far from over. Since that meeting, patrons have submitted letters to the Signal supporting and opposing closing Marion Springs and Vinland elementary schools. One group of Baldwin City parents passed around a petition that was signed and given to the school board and Dorathy.
On Monday night, many of those patrons were back to continue the debate, but at the end of the meeting School Board Member Scott Lauridsen said at the next meeting the board needs to seriously discuss consolidating the schools for the 2011-2012 school year.
“We missed the opportunity at the May meeting to reduce the K-5 teacher count by four, which would increase the K-5 class size average from 18 to 20,” Lauridsen said. “Without that savings and the very limited time left for the district and families to plan for and implement the consolidation, I feel it would be better to target closing for 2011-2012.
“I believe we've looked at it from every possible angle and heard every position both for and against closing a building,” he said. “If we're going to do this, we need to make the decision, develop and begin executing a transition plan. The sooner we get started the more time everyone has to deal with the change and the better start we'll have to the 2011-2012 school year. In my opinion, the district benefits we could realize with the savings outweigh increasing the K-5 class size from 18 to 20.”
Lauridsen wasn’t the only person at the meeting supporting the closing of one or two rural elementary schools. Nearly a dozen patrons spoke out about the conditions of the district buildings and how the school board needs to consolidate the elementary schools into two buildings.
Susan England, Baldwin City patron, handed the school board a pile of signed petitions that ask for the board to consolidate the elementary schools. She read the petition Monday night.
“It says, ‘We, the below signed patrons of USD 348, are calling for the USD 348 school board to be fiscally responsible. We are asking the board to combine the four elementary schools into two buildings, utilizing the primary and intermediate centers for classes, beginning in the fall of 2010. We ask for fair and equitable spending of school funds that will be in the best interest of all students in the district,’” England said.
England went on to say that she spoke at the May meeting and asked for closure of one or both of the rural elementary schools. She said her stance hasn’t been well received by the public.
“Through this process I have lost good friends, I have been shunned or ignored at public events and my kids have had comments made to them that they shouldn’t have to listen to,” England said. “This hasn’t caused my opinion to change.”
Chad Christie, who lives west of Baldwin City, presented the board with a list of cuts from the past few years. He left the board members with one last message.
“I was born and raised here,” Christie said. “My parents went to these schools. My kids are going to them now. I have many friends that live near the outlying schools. I don’t want to see these schools cut any more than anyone else, but we have a crisis on our hands and we need to do something about it.”
Of course, not everyone at the meeting supported the idea of closing MSES or VES. Several patrons expressed their opinions about keeping the schools open.
“I don’t want to see either of the rural schools closed,” said Crystal Harris, VES secretary. “The Intermodal will be coming soon and that should bring jobs and growth to the area. I just also want to say we continue to be one school district, not three like people have said. I want us to stay together.”
Some of the patrons were just tired of the arguing and words spoken back and forth between parents of the rural and Baldwin City schools. One of those was Jennifer Letner (not sure on name spelling).
“I want all of us parents to work together,” she said. “If you know it needs to be done, rip off the band-aid and let us work together. I’m concerned about the morale of the parents.”
At the end of the public comment Monday night, a group of Baldwin City parents presented a slide show to the school board. The presentation, titled “Conditions of our Buildings,” contained more than 30 photos of dirty, damaged or broken walls, ceilings, floors or other items at Baldwin High School and Baldwin Junior High School.
The parents also presented a list of cuts that have been made during the past few years to all of the buildings. They also presented a way that MSES and VES could be closed and all of the students could be put into the Baldwin Elementary School Intermediate Center and Baldwin Elementary School Primary Center.
The group of parents made it appear possible for all of the students to be in the BESIC and BESPC and maintain the same class sizes that they had this year. They also wanted to make sure the school board members heard their opinions.
“Changes have to be made,” said Carrie Barth, Baldwin City patron.