CAMDEN — Preble Shawnee Local School District Board of Education members voted to close West Elkton Intermediate School before the start of the coming 2020-21 school year during a special meeting held Thursday, July 2.
The board also voted to house fifth and sixth grade students displaced by the West Elkton closure at the district’s Junior and Senior High facility.
As discussed during a pair of public hearings held in June, the district faces a serious financial deficit as a result of a general operations levy and property tax bond issue being defeated at the polls in April, as well as anticipated cuts to state education funding announced by Gov. Mike DeWine in May. Superintendent Dr. Matt Bishop stressed during the board’s June 25 meeting the district would face a deficit of at least $800,000 even if a new levy passes in November.
Closing the West Elkton facility, according to Bishop, will save the district approximately $460,000 annually. Bishop initially recommended housing elementary school students in modular facilities and waiting until 2021 to close West Elkton, but arrived at the July 2 meeting armed with new recommendations.
“I’m comfortable that we can make it happen; that fourth grade can go to Camden and fifth and sixth grade can go to the Junior and Senior High,” Bishop said. “There are a lot of opportunities where we can keep the grades separate. It’s not ideal, but I can’t say that whatever the plan would be after a year of consideration would be that much different.”
Board president Julie Singleton strongly disagreed.
“I think we’re trying to push something through too quickly,” Singleton said. “We’re constantly talking about money and structures, and I worry that we don’t think enough about our kids and how what we’re doing impacts them.”
Singleton and board member Nick Duskey initially opposed moving fifth graders to the Junior and Senior High, saying they felt the fifth-graders would “suffer educationally” from being housed alongside high school students. Board member Gary Rader had a different viewpoint, however, pointing out the immediate savings that would result from closing West Elkton earlier and the increased comfort and safety of the Junior and Senior High — a brick building equipped with air conditioning — in comparison to modular facilities.
“Moving so fast because of money and air conditioning just isn’t that relevant to me,” Singleton countered.
Board vice president Jeff Wood said he’d initially had similar feelings.
“But what we could gain from this, or at least not lose, trumps my trepidation,” Wood said.
Duskey also changed his tune somewhat from the earlier meeting.
“Are we going to make that many less mistakes if we wait a year?” Duskey asked. “That said, I don’t land on keeping the fifth grade there any longer than we possibly have to.”
Most board members seemed to oppose closing early during the June 25 meeting, and ultimately chose to allow Dr. Bishop to consult administrators at the West Elkton, Camden Primary and Junior and Senior High facilities before making a final decision.
Results of a survey taken by Preble Shawnee Local Education Association president Kim Willoughby seemed to cautiously back closing early, according to Willoughby, with 53 percent of the survey’s 70 respondents voting yes. Willoughby also revealed that 54 percent favored the use of modular facilities, however, while 71 percent of West Elkton Intermediate employees favored closing later.
Wood, Rader, Duskey, and board member Charlie Biggs ultimately voted to move ahead with closing West Elkton and housing fifth and sixth graders at the Junior and Senior High. Singleton voted against the measure.
Reach Anthony Baker at 937-683-4057 or on Facebook @improperenglish