Photo by George Lauby
Parent Angela Blaesi, center, addresses the board.
Photo by George Lauby
Concerned parents listen to the board talk it over.
After a lengthy discussion, the North Platte school board told Superintendent Marty Bassett Tuesday to keep Hall Elementary school open for at least one more school year.Bassett said he decided Monday that the school should be closed because of declining enrollment, and recommended it to the school board.
But approximately 30 parents came to the school board meeting to protest and several spoke.
They said they have too little time to adjust to the closure.
After listening to a half-dozen people speak, the board voted to postpone the closure for at least one year. The vote was unanimous, but it came with cautionary comments.
“I understand the need for families to have time to make decisions, but we might be back here next year,” board member Julie Nielsen said. “We have to decide what’s for the greater good as we go down the road.”
Bassett said only four students pre-enrolled at Hall for Kindergarten in March, so the decision was made in April not to offer Kindergarten. And, there were only a handful of fifth graders at that time, so he sent a "school messenger" that the opportunity to request a transfer to another school would close May 9. He said the number of students was projected to be 84 students, but it dropped all the way to 48, and then even lower.
Parents said the short time frame to transfer led several to ask for a transfer when they wouldn't have otherwise. They felt trapped.
Bassett said he met with principals Denise Giovanni and Mary Derby on Monday morning and detemined that the best course was to close the school. He told the parents about it Monday night, and also told them Buffalo Elementary would be their home school because it is the nearest elementary school with room.
Several more transfer requests were filed after that, he said.
Bassett also said the school building needs renovations that would cost $1.1 million. He said the cost per pupil soars from around $7,500 to as high was $12,500 if enrollment sinks to less than 50 students. He also noted that about 40 percent of the students at Hall during the last two years transferred into Hall from the neighborhoods of other schools.
"Didn't several (recent) transfers (out) come from parents who felt like the school was closing?" board member Lisa Bianco asked Bassett.
Several shouts of "yes" came from the audience.
"I don't know," Bassett said, to which the audience laughed loudly.
Board member Mike Morrell asked Bassett if he would allow parents to rescind their transfer request if the board decided to leave the school open. He said three weeks ago some parents got scared, and more got scared after the meeting last night.
"That's a good question. I don't know," Bassett said. "We can play 'what if's' all we want. I'm making the recommendation to close the school. The board can approve it, deny it or table it."
Bianco asked if Hall parents still have an option to put their children in another school district. Bassett said no, the option closed March 15 and can't be waived except its waived for the entire district.
Parent Angela Blaesi said the abrupt closure violates the district's policy of being clear and transparent in communications. She said she has children in 3rd and 4th grades and had no clue the school might close until last night.
"I have two days to check out other schools," she said. "That goes against your goals and priorities. Trust is built on good communication."
Blasie asked for one more year to see what Hall supporters could do to build enrollment.
Another parent, David Cain, told the board that Hall school has been in existance for 100 years and asked for another year of operation.
Jack Wilcox told the board that classes were full until Hall was assimilated into the North Platte school district, which happened in 2006.
"After the city took it over, it deteriorated, and that's no good," Wilcox said.
Veronica Lee said Hall was considered the jewel of the elementary schools in Lincoln County just three years ago and she understood that requests were denied from parents who wanted to transfer students into Hall.
Tria Stout said closing the school without the option to transfer to another district is unfair. She said her child needs a smaller school. She also parents were generally unaware that kindergarten roundup was held at Hall.
"Give us a year," she said.
In further discussion, board member Jack Price asked if there were someway to estimate the number of students who might want to attend Hall next year. Bassett said he didn't know how to do that accurately.
Nielsen said the board had three choices -- to close the school, to leave it open for a year without kindergarten and then close it, or to leave it open indefinitely.
Price said he's not generally in favor of kicking the can down the road, but it makes sense to wait another year.
Bassett accepted the suggestion that Hall parents have more time to rescind their transfer request, but he bristled at the suggestion that other students be allowed to transfer into Hall.
"That's a management decision," he said. "If you're going to allow that, then the we need to have a talk about what my role is."
The board recessed for five minutes to consider how to word the motion.
During the break, Cain told the Bulletin that 40-50 parents attended the meeting at Hall Monday night with Bassett, who "made it sound like it was definitely going to close. Finally, he said it would be a school board decision."
When the board convened again, Price moved to leave the school open for the 2014-15 school year and allow parents to cancel their transfer requests.
Bassett said the deadline to do that would be May 23.
The vote was unanimous. Price and board President Kathy Phares both thanked Bassett for "going through the process" and being willing to make hard decisions. The crowd clapped.
Tria Stout, who testified earlier, told the Bulletin that she moved to North Platte from California where schools are huge, and she likes the smaller school.
"They take care of you," she said. "I don't want that to change."