News and Tribune

May 22, 2008

Committee considers New Albany-Floyd County school closures

Resources for Results to give recommendations to NA-FC board in the fall

By TARA HETTINGER

NO ACCESS BEYOND THIS POINT

• The Evening News and Tribune attempted to go to the latest Resources for Results meeting Monday. However, New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp. Superintendent Dennis Brooks escorted a reporter out, saying the meeting was not open to the public. He said since the committee was created by him, the open-meetings law, which requires them to be open to the public, does not apply. When a reporter was escorted from the meeting, Brooks said that the minutes were public and available in his office. As of press time, the minutes had not been provided to the paper. Dave Rarick, director of communications for the corporation, said the minutes may soon become public. If so, they will be on the corporation’s Web site, which is www.nafcs.k12.in.us. An inquiry has been made by The Tribune to the Hoosier State Press Legal Association about access to future meetings.



Secretive. Covert. Sneaky.

Those three words have reverberated within many parents and residents living near Silver Street Elementary School — one of the schools being considered by a committee for closure.

That committee, Resources for Results, was started in May 2006 by Superintendent of New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp. Dennis Brooks. He said he asked school employees, current and retired, school board members, parents and other community members to dedicate their time for about two years to look into ways to better use the resources the school system has.

The goal is for that group of about 30 people to come up with a few options of courses of action to present to the school board this fall. Brooks said the public will then be asked for input.

“It would be unlikely that we would do nothing,” Brooks said. “We started this process for a reason.”

He said at the minimum, districting lines for the schools would be reworked. At the most, he said two schools could be closed.

“At the end of the day, there will be some very hard decisions to make,” he said.

Brooks said moving the sixth-grade classes from the elementary schools to the middle schools created rooms that are now underutilized. He said when all those are added up, it equals one school’s worth of space.

So, during the committee meetings, members have looked at each of the individual schools to see what would happen if one or more were to close, Brooks said.

Vicky Nugent, who has a small child that will later attend Silver Street, said she had heard the rumors that the school could be shuttered. Weeks later, she found notes from the committee’s April meeting in her newspaper box.

When she read them, she saw that the committee was looking at the possibility of closing either Silver Street, Pine View or Galena elementaries.

“I was ticked to be honest. I was livid,” Nugent said. “Every year, rumors go around that people are talking about closing our school. This time, I find out there is a committee meeting, talking about closing it and meanwhile people are just telling us to not worry about it.”

Kathy Ayres, a Silver Street parent, also hears those rumors year after year. She said she believes the committee started with the notion to close her school.

“They tried to close it in the ’90s, but there was such an outpouring of people against it they stopped,” she said. “Since, I have been so scared that they would try to do this again covertly. Then all these red flags started to go off.”

Those include the school’s principal moving to Mt. Tabor Elementary for a principal job there and Mt. Tabor’s assistant principal moving to Silver Street.

“It just seems odd not to promote from within the school, where the person knows the school, the students and teachers,” Ayres said.

Then, she saw the capital-projects plan for the next three years. That budget says Silver Street is in “reasonable condition,” but “the kitchen and cafeteria spaces are below standard and need upgrading.” It also says more parking and playground space is needed.

However, the school will have no work done to it for the next three years.

The evaluation for the next school on the list, Slate Run Elementary, said it is in “good condition.” Nonetheless, in 2009, the school will have $220,000 spent there on a kitchen remodel and replacement and new gymnasium bleachers.

Ayres said since that was the case for other schools too, she feels like the administration stopped putting money into her school for fear it would be closing soon.

Brooks denies that.

“For me to tell you I knew (of specific future closures) that would be wrong,” Brooks said. “If I knew, I wouldn’t have had to spend two years with this committee.”

He said the improvements needed throughout the corporation are three times what is listed on the capital-projects plan. He said the school system tries to accomplish what it can. He referred to spending money at Silver Street to build an enclosed pathway to walk between the buildings.

That does not calm Ayers’ fears.

“I do not trust what I’m told, because how I’ve heard things before about this and find out that it was discussed before,” she said. “It’s just sneaky, because it’s not talked about openly at all.”

So, she and a few other community members are hosting their own meeting — one that will be public — at 6:30 tonight at Advent Christian Church along Shelby Street. She hopes that together they can come up with a plan of action.

“We’re hoping to get enough public outrage so that the school board would know that closing our school will not be easy,” Nugent said. “We are going to fight it and be vigilant.”

“I guess I kind of think of us as a Cinderella,” Ayres said, referring to the school not being as new and up to date as others. “We may look to some like we have cinder dust on our face, but in reality we really are a princess of a school.”

Resources for Results proposed timeline:

• May — Tentative outline of options, including advantages and disadvantages

• June-July — Further detailing of options and reviews by curriculum, transportation and finance offices

• August — Final review by committee

• September — Public meetings

• October — Completion and submission of report to superintendent and school board

Meeting about the future of Silver Street school scheduled

• Concerned residents are hosting a meeting to talk about the circulating rumor that Silver Street Elementary is being considered for closure. The meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. today at Advent Christian Church, 2129 Shelby Street. The meeting is to brainstorm to come up with a plan of action.