Three schools on closure list for St. Charles District 303
St. Charles Unit District 303 officials put a facade on the discussions about school building closures Wednesday, showing up to three buildings that might be shuttered to address declining enrollment.
Superintendent Don Schlomann identified plans to close one to three schools, depending on what community members and the school board decide.
The idea to close schools follows months of enrollment projection studies that indicated the district will not see a senior class topping 1,200 students in the foreseeable future. Local birthrates show the district will, at best, top out at 12,000 students. That number could also fall as low as 10,000 students.
Either way, Schlomann and his staff believe it may be too few students to justify keeping the same number of schools administrators the district has now.
There are three options that involve major changes.
The first closes Lincoln and Wasco Elementary schools. Lincoln is the oldest and smallest of the district's schools. Wasco is also an older building. There are also three other elementary schools (Bell-Graham, Ferson Creek and Corron) near Wasco.
Closing those schools would involve moving the more than 600 students at those buildings to other schools and cutting 19 administrative and support staff jobs. It would save the district $1.7 million per year.
That option still leaves problems at the district's middle schools unresolved. Both Haines and Thompson have substandard science classrooms and no air conditioning. Thompson also has ongoing problems with its lunchroom. That's where the next option comes in.
The community could decide to leave Lincoln and Wasco alone and close Haines Middle School instead. It's the smallest of the three middle schools. Some classes are already hosted in trailers.
In this option, 23 jobs are cut, and Thompson would receive a $20 million makeover. The cash would come through some bond refunding. No referendum would be needed. This plan saves taxpayers $2.8 million per year.
Some of the savings would come from a philosophical change in learning that would keep students in elementary school through sixth grade. All the middle schools would house only seventh- and eighth-graders.
District staff members recognize the idea of sixth-graders staying in elementary school may be unpopular. That's where the final option comes in.
This option closes Lincoln, Wasco and Haines. Up to 43 jobs are cut. Elementary schools remain kindergarten through fifth grade, but Thompson would need a $45 million makeover to allow it to house up to 1,300 students. That would require a tax increase referendum for construction. However, taxpayers would see long-term savings of $4.5 million per year.
In all scenarios, boundary changes would affect every school and home in the district. Schlomann said the boundary changes will be different in each of the scenarios, but those new attendance lines will not be shared until after one of the closure plans is selected.
Schlomann said that's because he wants the community to focus on the big-picture issues of what the learning environment should be for sixth-graders and how much money the district should save.
"Anytime you have boundary changes, you're going to upset someone," Schlomann said. "It's just a matter of what group you're going to upset. I need to make sure that we provide for the future of this district. We need to save some dollars."
Money may be the big lever. The district faces new financial pressures with the state's budget in flux. Proposed changes to the state's school funding formula could slash about $3 million from the district's budget. Proposed pension reforms could add up to $700,000 of new costs to the district's budget each year for the next 12 years.
And if state lawmakers pass a property tax freeze, the district must find a way to address rising costs with 85 percent of its revenues frozen.
Schlomann said that unless the community says otherwise, passing a tax increase for operating funds is not an option.
"Our community has, on a number of occasions, told us our taxes have become a burden," Schlomann said. "We want great schools, but we also understand we can only pay so much."
The options will be presented to teachers and staff first. Then each district school will have a presentation for the community starting in October. District staff members will present the community feedback to the school board in December. The board is slated to decide what to do in January.
There are no current plans suggesting what to do with the buildings if any of the schools close.