Vigo board of education to discuss school closings

Rob Haworth

A recommendation on elementary school closings in the Vigo County School Corp. is getting closer.

Tonight, the Vigo County School Board is conducting an executive, or closed, session and one of the topics is “school consolidation,” according to a meeting notice. 

Superintendent Rob Haworth confirmed one of the topics is “related to the strategic plan’s call for the closing of elementary schools.”

He said it’s too early to say whether a formal recommendation will be presented to the School Board at a public meeting in December. So far, just one regular board meeting is scheduled for next month, on Dec. 14. That meeting will be virtual, a precaution related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, Haworth said he would prefer to not comment on which schools are under consideration for closure until after Monday’s closed executive session.

The VCSC strategic plan called for an elementary task force to make recommendations this year, with two closings expected in 2021 and potentially a third in 2022. 

The school district first announced the proposed reduction of elementary schools in October 2019, part of a spending reduction plan in response to declining enrollment, financial challenges and a declining cash balance.

The board later approved the strategic plan Feb. 24.

During strategic plan discussions, the district pointed out that over the prior 11 years, enrollment had declined by more than 1,300 students, enough to fill three elementary schools. In September 2019, the district had 14,185 students, and this past September, that number had dropped to 13,601; officials say much of the drop this past year could be attributed to the pandemic.

The enrollment loss also takes a financial toll, as each student generates $6,665 in state funding.

In October, Haworth spoke during a Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce Public Education forum, delivered through Zoom.  At that forum, he stated the task force had been meeting and was expected to present its findings later this year on which elementary schools should be closed. 

At that time, he did not identify the schools, but indicated the task force was expected to make a presentation late this year.

When that presentation takes place, the task force is expected to present how it arrived at its findings. The group has looked at several schools “in and around the 300-student enrollment,” Haworth said in October. Enrollment is one factor, but other factors include time that would be spent on school bus transportation to and from school as well as whether areas are growing in population.

“It’s a pretty complex issue,” Haworth said in October.

Also at the October forum, Haworth answered questions about how the closed elementary buildings might be used.

The district plans to retain the closed elementary school buildings and will recommend re-locating central administrative offices in one; it’s expected Covered Bridge Special Education District also will joint the central office in the new space. Currently, Covered Bridge leases space.

The district also would like to have some “creative partnerships” to expand on daycare and pre-K in another building, and create educational pathways for early childhood education, hopefully with higher education partners.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at sue.loughlin@tribstar.com Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.

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