Thompson School District board votes not to close schools in 2018-19

By Aaron Reynolds

The Surveyor

The conference room for the Thompson School District Board of Education meeting was a packed house Wednesday, Jan. 17, as numerous members from the community spoke against potential school closures, most notably those associated with Stansberry Elementary and Van Buren Elementary in Loveland.

The Thompson School District is facing a $5 million deficit in its budget, and one of the proposed solutions in the past has been to close schools. However, a growing number of teachers and parents have expressed their frustration with a lack of a concrete decision regarding the status for their school as the 2018-19 school year rapidly approaches.

After a lengthy, passionate discussion on the topic, the board eventually settled on a 6-1 vote not to close any schools in 2018-19; though it doesn’t necessarily exclude any schools with low attendance from facing a shutdown as early as 2019-20.

Gordon Jones, chief financial officer for TSD, informed the board that any potential school closure has the opportunity to produce a half million or more dollars in savings to the budget.

However, board member Jeff Swanty – who has been one of more outspoken critics of shutting down any schools next year – stated prior to the vote: “I don’t think we have done everything we can to support these schools. I would like to have conversations about what we can do to make them more successful before having a conversation about closing any. It would be completely irresponsible [to make that decision now].”

Meanwhile, Pam Howard remarked that, while making a decision to shut down a school is perhaps the most difficult task any board member encounters, “We have to make the best decisions for the majority of our students. The fact is, this community hasn’t supported a mill levy or bond in 13 years. We are now tasked with this balancing act [regarding the budget].”

Lori Hvizda Ward, the only board member to vote against the decision added, “This is an emotional issue, and I understand that,” before she listed off Van Buren and Stansberry’s declining attendance numbers over the last eight years.

“Those are some hard facts,” Hvizda Ward confirmed. “[School closures] isn’t an easy decision, I doubt it would any easier a year from now… I don’t enjoy saying these things, I don’t enjoy being the bad guy, but this district has come to the time where we can no longer afford to operate this way, and consolidating schools is one alternative we can do at this moment.”

During the Jan. 17 meeting the board of education also voted on two changes that will drastically alter the schedule for the 2018-19 school year. Later start times were approved by the board 6-1, with elementary students slated to begin at eight, high school at 8:30, and middle school at 8:45. These later start times are based on recent studies that suggest children, especially early-teens are more prone to retain information when classes do not begin so early in the morning.

The board also approved unanimously to delegate a one-hour late start every Wednesday of the 2018-19 school year where faculty will be able to meet, plan and collaborate prior to students arrival. For those of you who remember the early-release TSD utilized several years ago, this would be comparable, only reversed to accommodate mornings.

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