Mathews board reluctant to close middle school

The school board is leery of placing students in modular classrooms.



VIENNA — Closing Neal Middle School for the next school year could save the Mathews School District more than $814,000, which includes the elimination of up to nine jobs, according to estimates released Monday by Superintendent Lee Seiple.

The superintendent released the figures during a work session of the board of education. The board had delayed action on closing the school because members expressed reluctance about moving seventh- and eighth-graders into modular classrooms. Neal’s sixth-graders would be transferred to Baker Elementary School.

Seiple told the board that the district’s declining student numbers leaves very few options. “A drop in enrollment is the real reason we are here tonight,” Seiple said. The district has approximately 825 students, far below its high of more than 1,900 nearly 30 years ago.

The eliminated positions could include two teachers, a guidance counselor, cafeteria and custodial workers and a secretary. “The potential savings depends on the configurations,” Seiple said referring to the use and location of modular structures.

Seiple’s estimates included more than $330,000 in repairs or replacements for the school’s boiler, septic system and roof. A recent county inspection, however, indicated no problems with Neal’s septic system — a surprise to the superintendent.

“That’s not consistent with what we’ve been getting,” Seiple said, adding that previous inspections have found problems with the system.

The superintendent said the district could expect to pay between $35,000 and $49,000 for previously used modular trailers which could be placed adjacent to either the high school or one of the district’s elementary buildings.

Board members, however, wondered whether the high school could accommodate the seventh- and eighth-graders — a request that did not sit well with Louis DeMarco, the high school principal.

“There’s no room for them,” DeMarco said. “That’s like putting 10 pounds of sausage into a 5-pound casing.”

“I just want to be able to rule the option out before spending [thousands] on modular,” said Kenneth Wallace, board president. One option that caught the interest of several board members is placing only limited-use classes such as band or choir in the modular units with the remaining classes housed in the high school.

Seiple and DeMarco said the biggest problem is scheduling, which normally takes months to complete. The superintendent said he and his administrators “will work night and day” to see if the high school option is feasible. The board’s next regular meeting is March 23.

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