Newark gets 1-year reprieve
More than 60 people braved a snowstorm to attend the Parkview School Board meeting Monday to hear the board vote 5-2 to keep the kindergarten-through-fourth-grade school open at least one more year.
As part of the vote, the board will work on a three-year strategic plan for the district to determine how buildings will be used after the 2011-12 school year.
The vote makes no guarantee Newark will remain open after the next school year, said board member Craig Jones, who seconded fellow board member Ed Bell's motion after more than 90 minutes of discussion with the public.
Board members John King and Terry Gerber voted against the motion.
After years of declining enrollment, the district faces a $400,000 budget deficit next year and an estimated $700,000 deficit the following year, Superintendent Steve Lutzke said. Closing Newark Elementary, which stands less than 2 miles from the Illinois border, would save an estimated $214,440.
Last month, Lutzke presented a list of cuts that included eliminating two elementary teachers, four aides and a bus route. That combination would reduce the deficit to about $16,000.
Residents on Monday questioned why closing Newark was still on the table if other cuts were possible. They again brought passionate pleas to keep open the rural school, which has about 80 students.
Board members and residents alike expressed frustration about how to make cuts in the sometimes contentious discussion in the elementary school's gym. One resident said she was looking at a school board she felt has failed the district, while another woman said residents would vote board members out if the school closed.
"We are up here because of the kids," Gerber said. "We're trying to come up with solutions. Any viable option is on the table. But we're telling you that in a couple years, at this rate, a school is going to be closed.
"No matter how much you want to fight for a school, changes are going to have to be made that benefit Parkview—not just Newark, not Footville, not Orfordville. We're trying to do what's best for Parkview."
The next state budget also is a big unknown. King and Gerber reiterated the uncertainty of how much more, or less, state aid the district will receive. Gov.-elect Scott Walker won't present his budget until early next year.
Residents suggested the district switch to a high-deductible health insurance plan to save money, along with cutting raises to administrators.
Much of the discussion also centered on parents who said the district will lose families—and more money—if Newark is closed. Parent Kim Govert-Meris told the Gazette she has signatures from parents of 60 to 70 students who would leave the district if Newark closed.
Residents said the district should be marketing Newark to families who attend Brother Dutton Catholic School in Beloit. The pre-kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school has declining enrollment, and it will close if it merges with Our Lady of the Assumption on Beloit's east side, Principal Edward O'Brien told the Gazette.
The parishes are awaiting a final decision next month from Bishop Robert Morlino in Madison, O'Brien said. Brother Dutton parents at the meeting, however, said they had been told the school is closing, and they were considering where to send their children next year.
Ryan and Angelica Poppie live not far from Newark, and their three children attend Brother Dutton. They attended the meeting to hear if the board would make a long-term commitment to keep Newark open, they said.
The Poppies said their kids likely will attend Our Lady of the Assumption if Newark is going to close in a year because they don't want to transfer the children a second time.
Parents of the 52 Brother Dutton students are looking for a new school, Ryan Poppie said.
"They're looking for a small school like this," he said. "If they could make a commitment, they could have got a lot of kids."