Restructuring proposed in West Branch district
Three options on the table; elementaries in jeopardy
BELOIT — The West Branch Board of Education is considering a reconfiguration of the district that could mean the closure of both elementary schools.
Superintendent Timothy Saxton has presented an initial proposal for reconfiguration and cost savings to take effect in the fall. The proposal, developed at the request of the school board, included three options and the expected cost savings of each.
A community meeting has been tentatively scheduled for Feb. 11 where Saxton will provide more details on each option as well as his recommendation. At that meeting, the board will also accept public input to help in its decision. The board can select one of the three options or reject all of them.
The first option would close Knox Elementary and change Damascus Elementary into an early learning center for grades pre-school, kindergarten and first. The building would also house the administrative offices for the superintendent, treasurer and school board; special services offices; and the technology department. Projected cost savings are $485,933 for maintenance and operations and $300,000 in personnel.
The second option would close both Knox and Damascus elementaries. The middle school would become an elementary and intermediate school for grades pre-school through sixth and the high school would become a junior-senior high school for grades 7-12. Projected cost savings are $976,121 for maintenance and operations and $500,000 for personnel.
The third option would close Knox Elementary and part of Damascus Elementary. Damascus Elementary would become the administrative building with offices for the school board, superintendent and treasurer, as well as for special services and the technology department. The middle school would become an elementary and intermediate school for grades pre-school through six and the high school would become a junior-senior high school for grades seven through 12. Projected cost savings is $885,121 for maintenance and operations and $500,000 for personnel.
Saxton said the tentative timeline for implementing the change, if the board so chooses, will include the community meeting on Feb. 11, a board resolution at its Feb. 20 meeting, creating an implementation team on March 2, communicating the final plan on April 1 and implementing the changes April through July for the start of the next school year.
Saxton said his proposal took into consideration a declining student enrollment and the current operational costs of each building.
For student enrollment, the district has dropped nearly 500 students since 2009-2010 and sits at 1,980. Currently the district has 551 students at the high school in grades 9-12 (82 attend the career center), 688 students at the middle school in grades 5-8 and pre-school, 334 at Damascus Elementary in grades K-4 and 325 at Knox Elementary in grades K-4.
Current operational costs, according to 2019 data from the Ohio Department of Education, are approximately $1.5 million for the high school, $1.1 million for the middle school, $490,000 for Damascus Elementary and $486,000 for Knox Elementary. The total operational cost per square foot for the all the buildings is $9.27 versus the state average of $7.
With any of the options, the district will be able to eliminate deficit spending of $700,000 to $800,000 the next five years, Saxton noted.
Board President Courtney Stryffeler said the board asked Saxton to present options since voters have rejected eight levies since 2005, with each one failing by a larger margin no matter what the board communicates about the need for money.
Board members indicated levies are no longer an option.
Board member Karen Rice noted the buildings are not being operated at capacity and students are already being transferred between buildings based on programs and curriculum. She also said parents have complained to her about curriculum at the same grade level varying at the different buildings, but teachers at the meeting said the curriculum is a team effort at both elementary buildings.
Stryffeler said the community is in a position in which difficult decision have been required the past few years.
“And it looks like it will continue in that direction,” she said, noting the board has been unable to secure financial support from the community.
Saxton’s presentation is available on the district’s website under the school board’s link. It is located on the Jan. 28 meeting agenda under the BoardDocs link.