Greene County school board votes to close two elementary schools

The Greene County School Board voted Tuesday in favor of a multi-phase plan that starts with the closure of two elementary schools. 

The vote was 4-3, according to Assistant Director of Academics Dr. Bill Ripley. 

That means Glenwood and West Pines Elementary will close at the end of this school year. 

Ripley said this plan will help the district improve educational opportunities and deal with what he called a budget crisis caused, in part, by at least a decade of declining enrollment in the school district. 

According to district data, Greene County has lost 936 students in 10 years and 683 over the past 5. The district is projected to lose 96 K-8 students by the 2019-20 school year. 

Ripley said Glenwood and West Pines were chosen because they have the lowest enrollment in Greene County. Both have less than 180 students and teach kindergarten to eighth grade.

“The cost per child to operate a school that size is more expensive,” said Ripley. “You can make the argument that that’s not an effective way to run a school district.” 

He said closing these schools is expected to help the district break even on a $1.4 million dollar budget deficit.

“The savings actually come from a reduction in staff, the biggest bulk of any school budget is salary and benefits,” said Ripley. 

He said the district expects most of those staff members to be re-hired through existing and future openings. “Now I’m not saying that we’ll be able to do that for every single teacher,” he said. 

Some parents think district leadership should do more to keep these schools open. 

“Stop looking at our children as dollar signs and look at them as our future,” said Stacey Robertson

For Gracie Johnson, a 4th grader at West Pines, the move is personal. 

Gracie lost her dad suddenly last year. She said her friends and teachers helped her feel better. “A lot of kids have bad things happen to their parents and the school makes them feel comfortable, their friends and their teachers. School is not just about education it’s about helping students and making sure they feel safe and loved,” she said. 

“I’m fine paying extra taxes to keep students safe and happy,” said Brittany Johnson, Gracie’s mother. 

Robertson said the school board should make cuts elsewhere to make up for the budget deficit. 

Ripley said the Greene County Commission would not approve a tax hike and that alternative funding options were researched in a recently completed study. “We have no reason to believe that the county commission would fund that we actually have reason to believe they would not fund those two schools,” he said. 

Ripley said the plan is part of a broader mission to break up the K-8 system in Greene County in favor of separating younger and older grade levels in a middle school format. He said this will allow them to offer more vocational opportunities before high school. 

Later stages of the multi-phase plan call for a new high school opening in the northwest, replacing North Greene and West Greene High Schools. West Greene would then be converted to a middle school serving the entire northeast area. This consolidation is targetted for the 2025-26 school year, according to the school board presentation. 

In the 2035-36 school year, the board plans to open a new high school in the southeast to replace Chuckey Doak and South Greene High Schools. Chuckey Doak will then be converted to a middle school serving the entire southeast. 

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