Friday, February 11, 2011

Letter to the Editor about School District 171 budget issues, options

Dear Editor:
  I would like to take the time to commend the school board members for their active efforts to listen to the people of this community. They are diligently seeking solutions to our current school issues. Last Saturday, they held a work session allowing anyone present to voice their concerns and recommendations. In fact, for several months there has been an open format to school board meetings, encouraging patrons to participate.
  As most of you know, this has been particularly tough with closing the Junior High School. There are now crowding issues – at both OES and OHS - and supervision issues with busing the students for classes and activities. The OJHS teachers are commuting back and forth to the high school as well with resultant effects particularly in the area of special ed. This has been not only difficult on our schools, but on our community as well. If we knew this was only temporary, it would be easier.
  Now the current plan is potentially to move the 7th graders to the high school to at least minimize the effects socially of splitting the junior high students and teachers. Unfortunately, there is not room for 75 more students at that facility. We will then need to move in modulars to accommodate extra classrooms. These are expensive and not a permanent solution. It sounds easy; open the junior high back up. Unfortunately, OJHS is very old and tired and will cost greatly to repair and ultimately to staff as a stand along facility. Furthermore, this school district is facing significant state cutbacks again this year.
  We need your help. What do we want our schools, and ultimately our community, to look like? The school system dramatically affects our ability to draw in businesses and professionals (like doctors and hospital staff, etc) to our community. Do we want people to seek out other areas in order to get the best education for their students, or do we want them to move here? Do we want to retain our current businesses and professional staff? Or would we rather spend our money on social issues and juvenile delinquency? Either way, it will cost our community.
  These are the options (in no particular order): Rerun the school bond to add needed classrooms to OHS in order to maximize staff (administration, teachers, lunchroom, custodial, support staff, etc…) and minimize student issues. OJHS would be allowed to have an attached but separate area to learn and function. This would maximize matching funds currently available for new construction and could be done with very little interest charged to our district. (This won’t be available to us after 2012).
  Reopen OJHS. We would need to spend as much or more (than an addition at OHS) to remodel/restore/upgrade the building to get it suitable for long term use. This would require a facilities bond at much higher interest and no matching funds. It would also require raising our current override levy (paid for yearly on our taxes) to staff (an additional administrator and support staff).
  Build a stand alone OJHS to house 6th-8th graders on the property below OHS. We could share staff easier between OHS and OJHS. The students would have their own facility, funds to build would be low interest and matching as with the addition, but the amount for a separate building would be larger than an addition at OHS. Extra support staff and possibly administration would be needed with a resultant increase in override levy amounts yearly to operate.
  Move 7th graders to OHS and move in modulars to accommodate extra classrooms. There is limited space at the high school site for these modulars with resultant effects on parking and access. To move them in, set them up, and rent or buy them is expensive, and would require additional override levy funds yearly to pay for them. Junior high students would be mixed with high school students with potentially resultant social issues. Student numbers have been dropping in our district, but not enough to ever house 7th-12th graders all in OHS. The modulars placed at OES in the 60’s are still there… (and falling apart).
  Others? We need to hear from you. The amounts for all these options are available through the district office. Please contact your school board members with what you are willing to support. Our kids, our schools, our community needs us to come together on this and find solutions to the issues at hand.
Darlyn Lanier

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