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NILES Plan to close school fails to generate angry calls



Published: Thu, April 17, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



The board president said it was an economic decision.

By SHERRI L. SHAULIS

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

NILES -- After Thursday's announcement that Garfield Elementary will close its doors after this school year, some officials thought they would get an earful from the public. Instead, the phones remained quiet.

"I haven't had one phone call yet," Terry Swauger, president of the board of education, said Friday.

He said he thinks most people understand the reasoning behind the decision: The school district is facing a projected deficit of more than $2.4 million, and cuts are necessary to bring finances back into line.

At 98 years old, Garfield is the oldest school in the district and it's no longer feasible to keep it in operation.

"It was mainly an economic decision," Swauger said. "My understanding is that it takes between $300,000 and $400,000 to run that school every year. When it loses the sixth-grade pupils next year, it just doesn't make sense to keep it open."

More than 150 pupils in kindergarten through sixth grade attend Garfield this year, with a projected enrollment of 134 next year, when the building will no longer house sixth-graders.

Niles Middle School will open in the fall for sixth through eighth grades, which means Edison Junior High School will also close. State funds will be used to demolish Edison.

Superintendent Patrick N. Guliano said his phones were also quiet Friday, the day pupils received letters to take home about the school's closing.

"I think the reality is setting in," he said.

Debt problem

Guliano was to meet this afternoon in the middle school with parents and residents who have questions about Garfield's closing.

It has been rumored for some time that Garfield would close, he said, but the school was saved in 1996 when a grant from the Ohio School Facilities Commission took care of repairs to the roof and windows.

"I did have a couple of teachers from Garfield call and tell me they understand we did what we had to do," Guliano said.

Closing Garfield is the first step in eliminating the district's debt, which prompted state Auditor Betty Montgomery to place Niles schools into fiscal crisis. Under that status, the district has until May 8 to submit a plan detailing how it will balance its books.

Swauger said board members and administrators are still examining other ways to bring the schools back into the black but said no one thing will take care of it.

He added the auditor's office supplied him and other board members with lists of other districts in Ohio that faced similar economic situations, and in each case, it took two to three years to get back on their feet.

"We have some other ideas of what we need to do, but this is a start," Swauger said.

slshaulis@vindy.com




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