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Above, Fred Higgins (right) listens as the school board addresses his concerns over possible closure and a full-time administrator. Photos by Leslie Radcliff

School closure rumors addressed

Trustees may study dispersing EES students, using facility for junior high school

March 27, 2013
It was a meeting that started off innocently enough as members of the community and the Crawford County School Corp. Board of Trustees gathered in the fifth-grade room at Patoka Elementary School to view a short film made by the staff to showcase their positive steps in a broad curriculum offered the school.

However, after the film, which featured each class and department within the school, it was time for the board to address the approximately 20 parents and community members who attended in support of hiring a full-time administrator for English Elementary School when current principal Debbie Ade retires at the end of the school year.

"We need somebody in charge of the ship. I think we tried it when our current principal was out for a period of time with some health issues that were going on," Fred Higgins, a parent of an EES student, said. "I think our school went down, and we had some issues we didn't have with a full-time principal."

Rebecca Elkins’ third grade classroom is just one of the classes that could face redistribution if plans to turn English into a junior high go through.
But, in addition to showing support, those in attendance also had questions.

Most wanted to know about the rumors that have been swirling for the last month or so about the potential closing of English and/or Marengo Elementary schools.

"Can you put any rumors to rest about either Marengo Elementary or English Elementary closing and becoming a middle school?" EES parent Vonda Schigure said. "There are rumors circulating everywhere about that."

Lucas Stroud, president of the board of trustees, explained the procedures that must be followed and offered assurance that the board would be as transparent as possible.

"The numbers are down at English quite a bit, and those things are things ... as a school board, that's our responsibility to discuss things like that, the future of the schools," Stroud said.

Each member of the board expressed remorse and tried to impress upon those in the audience the seriousness of the situation and that they did not take their responsibility lightly if they decide to pursue this route.

"It's not just your school that's involved in this process," Trustee Kelly Hammond said. "This is going to affect the whole corporation if it happens, so we have to look at it from a holistic standpoint."

The driving factor behind the study and possible closure is enrollment, which has been declining at the elementary level during the past decade. The trend analysis for the last 12 years has administrators projecting a student population at English Elementary of about 126 students, less than half the number the school is capable of servicing.

If the school is closed, it won't be immediately. A feasibility study first would need to be done to determine the fiscal viability of redistributing the students and possibly relocating the junior high students, currently housed with the senior high school, to the English building.

There are also transportation issues to consider and public hearings to be conducted so that the board can receive community input. There are questions that must be answered and steps that must be taken before any permanent decisions are made. The feasibility study alone could take six to eight months depending upon if an outside organization conducts the study or if the board forms a myriad of committees and conducts its own study.

"It depends on the study. I think Crawford County wants to see Crawford County move on and not be stuck in a rut," Stroud said. "You have a junior high that's overloaded and an elementary that maybe doesn't have the numbers … and you have to look at what's best for the community and our kids."

Currently, the high school students must attend some of their courses outside in trailers on the school's property instead of in a proper classroom inside the main building. If implemented, the new plan, while in its infancy, would allow for the high school to utilize the junior high portion of the building and bring those students into the main building. Junior high students, in turn, would be bussed to English, and English Elementary students would be redistributed to other schools.

Trustee Dennis Talley noted that Crawford County "is not only administrator heavy, but it's school heavy, as well."

"I don't see how anybody could not say that," he said. "And the job that we were elected to do is address those issues, and that is what we are trying to do."

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