Larger class sizes still focus of USD 348 school closing critics
Larger class sizes, longer commutes for students and many unhappy rural elementary school parents will result from the consolidation of elementary schools in Baldwin City USD 348.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l386M5E8Vic&feature=player_profilepage
Most of the 135 students of the Marion Springs and Vinland Elementary schools will be transferring to Baldwin Elementary School Primary Center or Baldwin Elementary School Intermediate Center after a vote in December by the district’s school board to close the two rural elementary schools effective at the end of the current school year.
Paul Dorathy, superintendent of schools for Baldwin City USD 348, said the board’s decision to close the schools was a result of state reductions in state funding for schools.
Before choosing to close the two schools, the district’s administration and school board tried to look at other options to reduce costs in the district.
School board president Alison Bauer grew emotional discussing the closings.
“We took input over a very long time and looked at options like a four-day school week and a longer school day trying to figure out other ways to save money, but the superintendent decided in the end this is what he needed to recommend to us,” Bauer said.
Dorathy said he hoped the projected savings would offset the reduction in state aid.
“The estimated total (savings) is about $425,000. That’s conservative,” Dorathy said. “We really believe it will probably save more than that.”
The savings will come from building costs for running the two schools as well as cutting positions in the schools. The district will cut six and a half elementary teaching positions and one elementary administrator.
Reducing the number of teachers means larger class sizes in the elementary schools. The average class size for fifth-graders will be about 24 students, compared to classes currently average around 18 students per teacher at the rural schools. The lower the school grade, the smaller the class size will get. For example, a fifth-grade class might have 24 students, while a second grade class will have about 20 students.
District officials are hoping to keep the lower primary grades class sizes in the teens if possible. This doesn’t sit well with fifth-grade Vinland Elementary School teacher Alica Thomas.
“Even if they had said, ‘Yes, we have to close the outlying schools,’ they should have found a way to keep the class sizes more manageable,” Thomas said.
Teachers and parents at both the Marion Springs and Vinland schools have many concerns about the consolidations, including the increased class sizes and busing. Some students could be on buses for more than an hour.
“Our most vulnerable children are going to be riding longer on a bus and in classes that are too many kids for the size of the classroom,” Thomas said.
Dorathy said the district was working to address concerns and conflicts that have arisen because of this decision by doing things such as trying to re-map bus routes
“Marion Springs and Vinland are very concerned about next year. They most certainly did not want their buildings closed because they have a lot of passion for their buildings and have really supported those buildings well over the years,” Dorathy said.
Before closing the schools, the Baldwin City USD 348 school board conducted public meetings and had a hearing to decide if the elementary schools should remain open. Although many of the students are too young to understand the situation, some attended the meetings with their parents and know exactly what is happening.
“I had several kids who were there the night they voted and one of my (students) said, ‘I cried all the way home,’” Thomas said.
Bauer said the Parent-Teacher Organizations have been working together to try and make the transition smooth for the parents, teachers and, most importantly, the children.
“The in-town (Parent-Teacher Organization) has decided to rename themselves the (Community School Organization) to be more inclusive and include anybody that wants to be part of the organization that supports these kids,” Bauer said. “Because that’s a goal; we want all the support we can get in the community for the kids.”
Meagan Thomas, Genevieve Des Marteau and Xiomara Nunez are students in an advanced reporting class at Baker University.
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