Janesville51°

Parkview debates closing two elementary schools

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GINA R. HEINE
September 13, 2011
— Members of the community and the Parkview School Board can agree the district needs to centralize its three elementary schools.

But when the discussion turns to a plan to close schools in Newark and Footville, the decades-long debate returns to an argument in which factions fight to keep their favored schools open longer.


That was again the case Monday as members of the board joined the monthly meeting of the district's long range facility planning committee in hopes of developing a plan.


"If we really think we have to close these schools, then we have to remove all the (other) choices," said Tracy Breneman, a parent on the committee.


Breneman described an "eerily similar" situation years ago in Poynette, where his dad was school board president for 18 years.


"For 18 years they fought just like we fight here" about closing two elementary schools, he said. The only way the district finally moved forward was by leaving the voters with no choices and stating both schools were closing, he said.


"You need to remove all the choices," he said.


Breneman's comments came after a 90-minute discussion about centralizing the district in Orfordville and revising questions on a survey that will be sent to about 3,000 district households.


The survey, designed to gauge support for a referendum, is awaiting updated data this fall.


The committee had planned to recommend to the board that the district build a new junior/senior high school and move all three elementary schools into the existing high school. The committee backed away from the plan this summer amid concerns the public wouldn't support a possible $25-million referendum.


The committee is considering options to consolidate the elementary schools and add on to Orfordville Elementary to accommodate all of the students. That could cost $9.26 million—an estimate J.P. Cullen & Sons presented Monday. The estimate includes adding 20,000 square feet of classrooms, a new gym and cafeteria to Orfordville Elementary, and remodeling part of the school.


The firm provided a concept budget after meeting with Superintendent Steve Lutzke.


Of the $9.26 million cost, remodeling is estimated at $1.8 million, construction at $6.7 million, and the remainder includes costs for architectural and engineering fees, plus furnishings and equipment.


The estimates also included an option of adding air conditioning to the existing school for $600,000.


All Newark students would fit in at Orfordville if the rural school were to close now, Lutzke said. If Footville were to close now, one or two portable classrooms would be needed at Orfordville.


If Newark and Footville both closed, eight to 10 additional classrooms would be needed at Orfordville.


The long range facility planning committee hopes to finalize a recommendation when it meets next with the school board at 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 10, at the high school.


Lutzke reminded the group that the administrative team's goal is providing the best service for students.


"Our current configuration is not doing that," he said.


Three teachers could have taught first grade this year, but because students are unequally spread between Newark and Footville, four teachers were needed. The extra teacher could have been used in sixth grade, where 28 students are in one class, he said.


"Our inability as a community to make a decision this year is affecting our sixth-grade instruction," he said, noting he doesn't want the district to face a problem in a different grade next year.


"I want us to understand that kids' education is at stake, and there's more to it than a fond memory of when I went to a certain building 30 years ago."



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