The Vigo County School Board voted Monday to close West Vigo and Deming elementary schools at the end of the current academic year.
The buildings will be repurposed: West Vigo will become the home of central administrative offices, and Deming will become an early learning center serving infants through kindergarten age.
The board voted 5-0 in favor of the administration's recommendation Monday evening. Board member Rosemarie Scott abstained and Joni Wise was not present.
West Vigo Elementary will be consolidated into Sugar Creek Consolidated and Fayette Elementary schools, and Deming Elementary will be consolidated into Benjamin Franklin Elementary and Ouabache Elementary schools. "These schools have room, and class sizes will not increase," Superintendent Rob Haworth stated in making his recommendation.
Haworth said the school consolidations were in response to the "unhappy truth" of student scarcity and declining enrollment, which impacts revenues.
The district must right-size the number of schools, among other spending reduction measures, as it works to bring spending in line with revenues and maintain a 10% cash balance. Rightsizing also will help the district in addressing other needs, including improving teacher pay.
The district has 18 elementary schools, while peer school districts have fewer elementary schools, Haworth said. Also, several VCSC elementary schools have fewer than 300 students.
By consolidating the schools, the district will achieve "economy of scale savings without sacrificing teacher to student ratio," he said.
Board member Hank Irwin, who is from the West Terre Haute area, said West Vigo "has been on the proverbial chopping block" ever since he attended elementary school. He believes that locating central administrative offices there will be a positive move for the community.
Board member Amy Lore pointed out that the board decided to consolidate two schools last February when it approved its strategic plan. On Monday, the board would not be voting on "if" but on "how, and executing the recommendations that have been painstakingly researched, debated and presented to us, with a huge amount of committee input."
Board member Scott commented that many people "aren't aware this is going on" and some are just now becoming aware of schools closing. "I think we did not make enough of an effort" to reach out to people affected, she said. She thought it might soften the blow to delay a vote and educate more people on the reasons.
During a public comment period prior to the board's vote, Leah Myers said she was disappointed in the community meetings that occurred earlier this month. "I was very frustrated that, after a 50-minute slide presentation, these meetings only allowed 15 minutes of input from the residents of Vigo County, and was followed by a Q&A session, which seemed to be more of a sales pitch."
She added, "Too many individuals, once again, feel their voices are not being heard by the administration." She asked the board to table a vote for one session to make sure "this plan benefits our whole community, not just for the coming year, but for years to come."
Citizen Matt Larimer also asked for a delay on a decision, and he was particularly concerned about schools in low income areas where students struggle academically. "I'd like to see a broader vision of how to move forward as a school corporation, one that incorporates the possibility of making our elementary schools more equal in their overall performance," he said.
Amanda Sampson suggested an early learning center at West Vigo would better serve the West Terre Haute community. Also, if central administrative offices located at West Vigo, it would no longer be centrally located and would be difficult for some people to get to, she said.
In December, after several months of study, a committee recommended West Vigo and Deming for closure/repurposing based on age/condition of building, low current and predicted enrollment and ease of consolidation into existing schools. Other factors included school boundaries, capacity and transportation.
With consolidation, Fayette will have 291 students and Sugar Creek Consolidated will have 464 students. Franklin will have 484 and Ouabache will have 322.
Haworth said it was important for the board to take action Monday to provide sufficient time for transitioning students and families to the new schools. The "connection process" will begin in February. "We want it to feel like it's their school before school is out," he said.
Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.