TSD split over new school closure policy

By Aaron Reynolds

The Surveyor

The Thompson School District (TSD) has been in the process of creating a handbook and policy for future school closures following a supremely-debated board of education meeting back in January, when the board decided by a vote of 6-1, not to close any schools for the 2018-19 school year.

The meeting back in January drew ire from some parents and staff in the school district who felt TSD kept delaying action on school closures, essentially leaving those who may have to relocate to a new school in the dark up until the last minute. It was something the board largely agreed upon, thus an emphasis to create a new policy moving forward that would outline how and why any potential school closures in the future may be processed was initiated.

School closures appear inevitable for Thompson as the district’s reserves are quickly drying up and the board may have to cut up to $3 million in expenses by the 2019-20 school year, and it was something that was once again discussed at great length at the March 7 meeting.

In a call to action to approve a new school utilization and school closure policy, the board spent over 30 minutes discussing and debating the issue before eventually settling on moving forward with the policies by a vote of 4-3.

Much of the discourse surrounding the indecision revolved around the current language in the handbook. Dr. Margaret Crespo, chief academic officer at TSD, explained language in the handbook could be adapted and amended at later sessions; however, a vote against not moving forward with the school closure policy would create more trouble and confusion.

Board members Jeff Swanty and Dave Levy, both of whom voted no, argued that moving forward without the language in the handbook being fully crafted to what they believed was the best interest for the board and the district, may inadvertently make the current handbook guidelines adapted into policy without a board vote. They also feared current guidelines point to establishing bigger school enrollments, deriving from the “neighborhood schools” they would like to continue and provide within the district.

“I don’t want any misunderstanding that we have an issue with the policy, but the wording,” Levy explained. “I don’t want to approve a policy and just say we’ll change the language in the handbook to fit our policy. I think we should wait. I don’t see the point in not waiting two weeks. I’m going to vote when I think it’s right, and I don’t think it’s right.”

Superintendent Stan Scheer weighed in, “There are not many school districts that have a policy like this in place. What is the plan? We are working on it. This is a process that needs to be thoroughly debated, because what you are seeing is unique across the country…. what was missing was a policy that addressed this issue in an objective way. Inevitably this school district is going to have to have some type of plan going forward to make difficult decisions.”

Meanwhile, it was made public that the finalists for the superintendent opening at Thompson will be announced following a closed board meeting on March 20. During the closed meeting the board will hear from consultant McPherson and Jacobson – who was hired by the district to conduct the job search – and will provide their six to eight recommendations for the position. All in all, Thompson received 51 applications for the superintendent opening. Interviews for the finalists are tentatively scheduled for March 26-29, with a final decision to be made and announced at the April 18 board of education meeting.

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