Janesville82.2°

Board: Newark school to close

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GINA R. HEINE
April 24, 2012
— Newark Elementary will close at the end of this school year and its students will be consolidated into Orfordville and Footville elementary schools next year.

After years of debate, the Parkview School Board had enough votes Monday night to take such action after voters elected three new board members April 3.


Monday's meeting was the first since voters turned down a $5 million construction referendum to consolidate the elementary schools by a 1,623-501 vote. Footville area residents Steve Haberman, Chuck Hagmann and Bill Wingerson also were elected to replace incumbents Ed Bell, Craig Jones and Eric Stelter.


The new board members ran together on plans to close Newark for next year and close Footville when declining enrollment allows in the future. They also opposed the board's plan to use portable classrooms at Orfordville Elementary if the referendum failed.


Wingerson made the first move to set their plan in action by rescinding the board's Dec. 19 motion to use eight modular classrooms in Orfordville. The board voted 5-2, with Troy Knudson and Elizabeth Brockwell voting "No."


Discussion focused on possible consequences: more students leaving the district through open enrollment, a further divided district and the length of bus rides.


About 80 students have applied so far to leave the district next year, Superintendent Steve Lutzke said. He estimated after the meeting that the number is 20 to 25 more students than normal.


Each student that leaves sends about $7,000 in state aid out of the district.


Brockwell said she knows several parents whose main reason for leaving is the community divide.


"It has nothing to do with closing their school, it's a matter of choosing one school over another," she said.


Brockwell wanted to know how the other board members planned to balance a budget with potentially up to $560,000 less in state aid because of students leaving.


Board member Terry Gerber said every time they've talked about doing what's "financially right," a group of parents says they'll leave if their school is closed. The district can't continue to operate three elementary schools, he said.


Board member Clay Hammes said all seven board members have a couple things in common—all have said a centralized campus is right for the district, and a high school project is necessary.


"We have a consensus up here—a central campus is what we want, and the high school needs attention. Give us a chance to do this. I understand not everybody … cared for the referendum," he said. "There is an alternative path to a unified district. It starts here because we all said the same things."


The board also voted 6-1, with Brockwell voting "no," to close Newark at the end of this school year. Administrators estimate the closure will save $161,000 annually.


Knudson voted for the action after expressing what a difficult situation he was in.


"As hard as it is for me, I think I'm going to try and take my lead from Terry (Gerber) here a couple months ago, who said this wasn't exactly my plan, but I'm going to do my best to support it, and try and make it work as best we can for the good of our district and good of our students," he said. "(I know it will) not be easy, but I will give it my best shot."


Lutzke said the board and administration aren't happy about losing a school, but instructionally, Parkview will be a stronger district. The majority of Newark staff will just be switching schools, and class sizes will not go up, he said.


The board also OK'd keeping grades 4K to second at Footville and grades three to six at Orfordville, and hiring an elementary principal with other administrative duties to fill a vacancy.


At least 60 people attended the meeting, which started with board members voting 4-3 to elect Hammes president over former President Knudson. Gerber was elected vice president, Hagmann as clerk and Knudson as treasurer.



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