School board hears from all sides on schools closings
The Baldwin USD 348 Board of Education heard more than two dozen patrons last Thursday express pro and mostly con arguments about closing two district elementary schools.
The comments were made at a public hearing on the possible closing of Marion Springs and Vinland elementary schools, a step required if the board is to take such action.
The school board didn’t discuss the proposal or take action at the meeting. Instead, school board members listened to the comments and concerns of patrons.
As expected, the highly anticipated meeting drew a large crowd, and 25 people walked up to the front of the Baldwin Junior High School auditorium to address the school board. Of the 25 speakers, 17 wanted the schools left open, six were in favor of the proposal and two were neutral.
“I come from a school district that consolidated and it failed, badly,” said Beth Crump, who sends her two elementary students to Vinland and Baldwin Elementary School Primary Center from her home outside of the district. “The school I went to was under this same proposition that you are facing right now. It failed. They lost their teachers. They didn’t get the money they needed to get and the kids lost the educational excellence they needed.”
Six of the first nine speakers were in favor of closing the school and consolidating the four elementary schools into two. Then 16 consecutive people stood up and opposed the proposal.
Patrons in favor of the school closings argued that with the district having trouble maintaining its current buildings, the educational experience wouldn’t suffer if all students went to BESPC or Baldwin Elementary School Intermediate Center and the financial status of the district is only going to get worse.
“I’m here to talk about two things,” said Amy Carlson, who has a child in Baldwin Junior High School and Baldwin High School. “The first being the current condition of the USD 348 facilities. Our students and staff deserve to attend and work in clean, well-maintained buildings.
“The second area is the current enrollment numbers of our district. Four of the five smallest classes in the district are in grades K-4. Four of the five largest classes are in grades 8-12. If this trend continues, USD 348 will be forced to deal with state funding cuts and decreased money from a declining enrollment.”
Class sizes have been an issue during the months of consolidation debate. Chad Christie, a 1989 BHS graduate who has children in the school system, said his graduating class had 100 students. He said most grades in the district have about 100 students, so the average class size hasn’t grown in 21 years.
“Nobody wants to have 25 kids in a class, but we’re in a situation right now where we don’t have a choice,” Christie said. “My daughter had 24 kids in her class in elementary school, and I saw a bunch of those kids go through the honor roll every year. I still think we can get a quality education even if we have larger classes.”
Opponents of the proposal were also concerned about class sizes. They expressed concern about overcrowding in BESIC and BESPC.
The proposal calls for eliminating 6.5 teacher positions. The cuts would increase elementary class sizes to 20-25 students next year. The largest class sizes would be in fourth and fifth grades with the smallest in first and second grades.
“Today we stand at a crossroads,” patron Jeff Flory said. “Do we take the path of firing teachers and providing just an average education or do we continue down the path of education excellence, which this district is known for? I would urge you to take the path of education excellence and end this debate once and for all.”
Kim Beilfuss, a MSES parent who’s spoke at nearly every school board meeting during the past several months, said the board’s focus was too narrow.
“I am concerned that this board has tabled all of the other cost-saving ideas and fixated on closing the rural schools,” Beilfuss said. “There are still other options that could save the same amount of money without costing the quality of education in our district.
“It also amazes me that several of the board members have not visited the rural schools during operating hours or attended any of the social events during the past year, if ever. How can you make a decision that will affect all children in grades pre-K through five without making the effort to understand what makes the current system work?”
Although some patrons favor the consolidation proposal, they conceded it wouldn’t be considered if the economy was thriving.
“It’s unfortunate that we are in the economic times we are in right now,” patron Ed Kite said. “It’s unfortunate that we need to consolidate these schools that are an important part of these families’ lives. It’s disappointing that we have been discussing this since at least March of this year and we’re still discussing it tonight. Hopefully all of the discussions leading up to tonight will culminate in the decision to consolidate our schools.”