GREEN RIVER — Despite pleas from parents to delay the vote, the Sweetwater County School District #2 Board of Trustees voted 6-1 at their Tuesday evening meeting to close Jackson Elementary School.
Left unclear was the matter of where Jackson Elementary’s enrollment of 221 students will head for the 2018-2019 school year. District #2 Superintendent Donna Little-Kaumo said that she would like to see a survey of parents beginning the week of Dec. 3 regarding potential school boundary changes.
Board vice-chairman Steve Core cast the lone dissenting vote. Prior to the vote, Core suggested using reserve funds or early retirements as ways to avoid having to close Jackson Elementary, a K-4 school located at 2200 E. Teton Boulevard.
Core added that Jackson Elementary families would be displaced and property values in the neighborhood would be affected. The rest of the board found Core’s arguments unpersuasive.
Board chairperson Brenda Roosa and trustees Corina Tynsky, John Malone, Ann Rudoff, Mark Sanders and Robin Steiss cast votes in favor of the Jackson Elementary closure.
Not Fair to Put it Off
Steiss and Sanders both expressed support prior to the vote for waiting until at least the Dec. 11 board meeting to decide what to do.
“I have no problem waiting…but at some point we have to make a decision,” Sanders said.
Little-Kaumo responded that it would be best not to wait any longer than the December board meeting to render a decision one way or the other, since if the decision ended up being to close Jackson, then staff would have to be notified and the mothballing process would have to start.
Rudoff was in favor of taking a vote on the issue and getting it over with. “It’s not fair to put it off,” Rudoff declared. “It’s not fair to staff or to keep parents in limbo.”
Trustees who voted to close Jackson Elementary did not do so lightly.
“This is my worst night on this board—ever,” Malone said solemnly.
Tynsky was near tears after the vote came down. “I have two kids who go to Jackson,” Tynsky said. “My husband went to Jackson Elementary and he has memories.” Tynsky cast her vote to close the school due to safety concerns at the school that had been expressed and the cost of repairs.
A Cost Issue
In her presentation, Little-Kaumo said that upgrade work on Jackson Elementary would cost approximately $770,000, with that figure not even including repairs to the roof which leaks when it rains.
The superintendent added that closing Jackson Elementary would save the district $1,227,171.93 at a time when the state legislature is not providing Wyoming schools with needed funding.
A 98-pupil decrease in district enrollment, from 2,703 students last year to 2,605 in 2017-2018 contributed to a $1,469,933.48 loss in funding.
Other options for cost savings had been considered, Little-Kaumo told the board and parents at the meeting, such as a four-day school week. However, teachers would still have had to work on that fifth day, Friday, or, if teachers did not work on Fridays, the district would have to cut their salaries by 20%. “That would not be a popular idea,” Little-Kaumo said.
Another option would have been to close Washington Elementary or Harrison Elementary, but Little-Kaumo said that Washington was the only school on the north side of Green River, and that Harrison, with a student population of 246 pupils, was only in need of a $210,000 upgrade.
Jackson Elementary students were performing the least well in comparison with other district elementary students, Little-Kaumo said.
“School performance drives school closure,” she added.
Parents Weigh In
Four Jackson area parents spoke at the public hearing preceding the board’s action. Angela Jones said that the reason she and her family chose the house they did when moving into Green River last summer was because of proximity to Jackson Elementary. Jones also expressed concern about the data which Little-Kaumo presented allegedly having not been available before now.
“It would have been nice to have seen this information sooner than the night of the vote,” Jones said.
Representing a parents’ group, Kye Kreusel also addressed the board and said that the decision that was about to be made had multiple ramifications.
“It’s not just a decision to close a school, but what do you do with the students?” Kreusel asked. He added that he supported the opinions expressed by other parents that the vote should be postponed.
Rudoff responded that public meetings had been held, and information presented, prior to the Tuesday meeting.
Tynsky said that the information which Little-Kaumo presented had been available to the board well prior to the vote.
After the public hearing, Little-Kaumo expressed her concerns regarding postponing the vote too long, and she assured the board and parents that an accurate survey would be conducted regarding options for changing school boundaries.
Legislature = The Problem in a Nutshell
As has happened at previous board meetings, the state legislature received a lot of criticism.
Tynsky acknowledged the “passion” which parents had expressed regarding Jackson Elementary and its importance.
“Take that passion and take it to the state legislature, because they’re the reason we’re having to make these tough decisions,” Tynsky said.
Several board members, as well as Little-Kaumo, told parents that the state legislature would hear them in a way that the board would not be.
“One parent complaining to a legislator is worth 10 of us complaining,” Rudoff said.
Core came to the rescue of the state legislature by partially blaming the bigger national picture. “The national energy policy has cost jobs,” Core said. He estimated that approximately 8,000 Wyoming jobs have been lost due to the national energy policy, including over 500 jobs in Sweetwater County, with the result that school enrollments have gone down and funding has been lost. “There’s not much the state legislature can do about that,” Core said.