Milton district weighs closure of school
IF YOU GO
What: Budget discussions by the Milton School Board Budget and Planning Committee
When: 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 6.
Where: School district central office, 430 E. High Street, Milton.
MILTON For parent Catherine Owens, Milton School District’s Consolidated School isn’t just a building. It’s a school tied to family tradition.
Her father, Joseph Langer, attended Consolidated School in the 1930s, when it was a two-room school. Owens, 43, went to Consolidated in the early 1970s. Today, two of her children attend the rural school on North County F, near Janesville’s northwest side.
“As a Consolidated student, I loved being on the playground in the middle of the cornfields. I love that for my children,” Owens said.
For Owens, that tradition could change.
As Milton School District seeks solutions for a projected $758,000 budget gap in 2010-11, Consolidated faces possible closure. The board likely will approve budget cuts April 12.
Figures released earlier show the district could save $600,000 if it closes Consolidated School. Most of those savings would come from staff salaries and benefits and are based on an earlier proposal to lay off four elementary teachers, Superintendent Bernie Nikolay said this week.
The school district will release updated figures on savings from the possible closure of Consolidated at a budget committee meeting next week.
A more recent budget proposal called for elimination of two teaching positions instead of four. One would be a position unfilled following a retirement; the other, an unfilled leave of absence.
Under that plan, district officials said, elementary class sizes district-wide could increase by one or two students. The plan also would leave four open classrooms in grade schools throughout the district.
That’s drawn concern from school board members.
“If there’s capacity in the district, why would you keep an outlying school open?” board member Jon Cruzan told the Gazette.
Owens said she’s worried class size increases, however small, could trim individual attention for students.
Owens said teachers at Consolidated School have worked individually with her son Donnie, a shy kindergartner, to improve his socialization. She said this year Donnie has started to seek attention from other students.
“He’s actually eager to participate in class activities,” Owens said. “I don’t think those gains would have come in a larger classroom. I think he’d still be closed off.”
Meanwhile, the district anticipates a bubble at fourth-grade, with possible class sizes of 29 students. Nikolay told the Gazette he recommends the board approve hiring an additional fourth-grade teacher.
“It’s an example of how hard it is to make any of these decisions in a vacuum,” Cruzan said.
Consolidated’s closure would affect about 90 students at the school. The students would be bused to Harmony School and East and West Elementary schools in Milton.
“We’d look at what bus routes would make the most sense,” board President Rob Roy said. “We wouldn’t make kids be on the bus any longer than necessary.”
Board member Bob Cullen said if the board opts to close Consolidated School, the district “would have to make a three or four-year commitment” to keep it closed. He said the district likely would retain ownership of the school building, which would make the district responsible for ongoing care of the structure.
Harmony School, another grade school in the district, has been closed and re-opened three times in the past 30 years. In 2002, during its last closure, Harmony School developed mold problems because of a roof leak.
Roy said in the last nine years, Consolidated School has had no roof repairs.
Cullen said he supports keeping Consolidated School open another year, but he acknowledged the district likely will face the specter of closing the school next year if district finances don’t improve.
Milton School District is not considering a referendum to exceed the school’s revenue cap.
Cullen said parents of students at Consolidated School aren’t the only people with concerns.
“Parents from other schools in this district are starting to ask, ‘Why aren’t you closing Consolidated?’” Cullen said.