School board discusses future of rural schools
Although the Baldwin School Board didn’t vote to close any schools last week, it was a hot topic of discussion.
After a lengthy public comment portion of the May 10 meeting, where nearly 20 people spoke about the rural elementary schools, the school board had its own discussion on the topic. In the end, no decision was made to close a school, but opinions were spoken during the meeting.
“I think we need to have the school closing conversation,” Board Member Scott Lauridsen said. “I think the only reason we would do that is to reduce the number of teachers we have.”
Board Member Josh Mihesuah, who had been quiet on the subject, agreed with Lauridsen.
“I think we have to look seriously at closing a building,” he said. “We can nickel and dime this all we want, but are we being responsible by not closing a building?”
On the same day, the legislature approved the state’s budget, which didn’t contain any cuts to the school funding. That was a surprise to school board members, as the district was preparing for a possible $500,000 cut to next year’s budget.
The school board did approve a plan that cuts around $390,000 from the 2010-2011 budget. Those cuts included some staff positions and other small items, but no larger items, such as closing a school, or going to a four-day school week or elementary attendance centers.
“I don’t think we could close two schools and I’m not proposing we close two schools,” Lauridsen said. “But I do think it feels like now is the right time, because we are forced to and we’ve got too many other areas.”
Board Members Ruth Barkley and Blaine Cone suggested redrawing the boundary lines for the elementary schools. They presented a map of the district that located where elementary students are in the district. They said redrawing the lines would help even out class sizes in the four schools.
The discussion continued as Lauridsen and Mihesuah thought the board needed to look at closing a school, while Barkley and Cone opposed the idea.
“The outlying schools are fantastic and I’m a big supporter,” Lauridsen said. “No one is questioning those kids get a great education. Why is that? It’s not the building. The staff has changed and the administration has changed. It’s the parents and their involvement in the community. How does that change if they go to a different building five or seven miles away?”
The lack of action by the board sparked a group of Baldwin City patrons to sign a petition demanding that the school board close Marion Springs and Vinland elementary schools. The group has met several times since the last school board meeting. Prior to the meeting, a group of parents presented a petition to keep the schools open.
The next scheduled school board meeting is June 7.