Parkview facing tough cuts
"It's such a pride and joy out there," said Debra Meredith, whose grandchildren attend Newark school. "The children go by and say, ‘That's my school.' It needs to be there."
Closing the small rural school is again one of several options the board is considering to fill a projected $400,000 deficit next year. Closing Newark and cutting four teachers and two aides would save about $273,000, board President John King said after the meeting.
About 100 people filled the Orfordville Elementary School gym at a meeting where the board heard a short update on the deficit before listening to parents' emotional pleas not to close their school.
Superintendent Steve Lutzke described several scenarios offered in handouts. They included maintaining all of the district's three elementary schools, closing Newark and cutting two to three teachers or closing Footville and cutting two to three teachers. No cost savings were provided.
If the schools did not consolidate, Newark would have class sizes ranging from 12 to 18 while class sizes at Footville and Orfordville would be 15 to 23, according to projections presented.
Nearly half the deficit can be filled with $179,000 the district saved from a federal jobs grant, Lutzke said. Another option would be cutting one teacher each at Footville and Orfordville, a bus route and four aides to reduce the deficit to $16,265, he said.
Many of those who spoke at the meeting told of their experiences as students at Newark and now as parents or grandparents of children attending the same school. They said the school offers a phenomenal environment for students and the parents are a tight-knit group.
Parent Kim Govert-Meris circulated a petition that gathered 334 signatures against closing the school. She said a second petition was signed by 66 parents who said they would use school choice to go elsewhere if Newark closed.
Several speakers took shots at the administration and school board, saying cuts need to be made at the top.
Parent and Newark Town Board member Don Davis said he didn't see any cuts made to administration after looking at a handout of the history of cuts.
"I don't see where our administration is trying to give back," he said.
Resident Geoffrey Bouc requested the cost per student in each scenario be presented.
"Everybody gets up and praises Newark, and nobody says why. The reason why is, you know what you don't find there? Administrators and principals," he said to the loudest applause and cheering of the night. "It's teachers and children."
Jan Bleicher, a five-year resident of the area, asked the community to not make the school buildings more important than the children.
"I think the decision needs to be made without emotion on where people went to school themselves," he said.
People should consider the school wouldn't be bulldozed if it closed, rather the district could reopen it if and when it is needed again, he said.
Others wondered where the savings would come from after next year.
"We can not continue to close schools. We can't continue to cut textbooks from the budget. Something has to be done," resident Bob Carlson said.
Resident John Woodworth suggested the district consider reopening the teachers contract and looking at administrative salaries.
"Times are tough for everyone. I want to make sure the pain is shared and not just the burden of the taxpayers," he said.
After public comments, board member Troy Knudson said finding solutions to the perfect storm requires continued input from residents. He thanked residents, and said he hoped they continue to attend meetings as difficult decisions are made.
Knudson and King also praised administrators, who board members agree had taken a beating. Administrators have made impressive improvements the last few years, Knudson said, noting fewer students are leaving through open enrollment.
The district has combined vacant administration positions, leaving people doing more for less, King said.
"Every administrator on staff could go down the street and make a lot more money than they're being paid here," he said. "I feel … we have the best administration team that this district has ever seen. And we are moving forward, and we're doing more with less than we've ever done in this district. I would hope some of the parents out there tonight would see that and agree to that."
Discussions will continue at a finance committee meeting Dec. 7, followed by the board's Dec. 20 meeting.