Janesville50°

Parkview board votes to close two schools

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GINA R. HEINE
November 29, 2011
— The Parkview School Board on Monday voted 4-3 to seek a $3.8 million referendum to build a permanent addition to Orfordville Elementary and close Newark and Footville elementary schools.

According to the board's motion, if the referendum fails, eight portable classrooms would be built at Orfordville instead.


Board President Troy Knudson cast the tie-breaking vote after more than two hours of discussion among residents, administrators and the board. He said the plan would be good for the community because it will get rid of division that's gone on since he was a kid.


Board members hope to get the referendum on the April ballot, but Superintendent Steve Lutzke said it would be unlikely to get detailed sketches and construction estimates that quickly. That would likely move the referendum to November, meaning the district would remain at excess capacity by keeping all three elementary schools open next year.


If an April referendum were to pass, Knudson said the board could again discuss closing a school next year since the district would be committed to closing both Footville and Newark in the future. If an April referendum failed, the district would have to order the portable classrooms immediately to have them ready for fall, administrators said.


The board's decision came after hearing concerns from administrators about teaching conditions, space issues and the budget problems the district would face if all three schools remain open.


The district has an estimated $500,000 deficit next year.


"If we remain status quo and put the buildings rather than the curriculum and staff as a priority, there's going to be some way student academic performance is going to suffer," said Karen Strandt-Conroy, who serves as principal at Orfordville Elementary and as both director of special education/pupil services and curriculum coordinator for the district.


"We're not focusing on curriculum, and that really concerns me … The message I'm getting tonight is that a building is more important," she said to applause from the audience.


Earlier in the meeting, a motion failed to close Newark next year and send those students to Footville and Orfordville. Board members Clay Hammes and Terry Gerber tried to persuade others that the decision would have the least impact on students, but the other five board members—who all live in Newark Township—voted against the motion.


Hammes also suggested amending the motion to close Footville when enrollment allowed in three to four years, but the plan didn't gain traction among other board members.


Closing Footville would save about $191,000 while closing Newark would save $161,000, according to estimates. However, moving the 103 Newark students to Orfordville would impact fewer families because they would all fit comfortably into Orfordville and Footville, administrators said.


Closing Footville would move its 168 students but also would force the sixth grade from Orfordville to move to the junior/senior high to make enough room.


More than 60 people attended Monday's meeting, and most of the less than 10 residents who spoke urged the board to do something it has discussed for decades: close Newark.


John McGuire of Footville said it was "absurd" that people believe in order to close Newark, Footville must be closed, too.


"That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard educated people have to say in my life," he said. "It's not right."


Residents also cited representation on the board, saying it wasn't fair that five of the seven members live in Newark. Board members Craig Jones, Ed Bell and Eric Stelter, all of Newark, are up for re-election in April.


HOW THEY VOTED

Motion to close Newark next year and send those students to Footville and Orfordville:


Yes: Terry Gerber and Clay Hammes


No: Ed Bell, Elizabeth Brockwell, Craig Jones, Troy Knudson and Eric Stelter


Motion failed, 5-2


Motion to close Newark and Footville by asking voters in a referendum as soon as possible for about $3.8 million to make permanent additions to Orfordville Elementary, and if the referendum fails, build eight portable classrooms at Orfordville:


Yes: Bell, Jones, Stelter and Knudson


No: Brockwell, Gerber and Hammes


Motion passed, 4-3


The $3,890,621 estimate for permanent additions to Orfordville Elementary comes from Ringland-Johnson of Cherry Valley, Ill. The proposal includes adding 29,056 square feet, including 14 classrooms—which administrators said could be reduced—and a new three-station gym that would be the site of high school sports games. The cost of eight portable classrooms would be $916,500, Knudson said.



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