Parents learn more about closure of East Elementary School in Craig | CraigDailyPress.com

Parents learn more about closure of East Elementary School in Craig

CRAIG — About 30 parents and school district officials gathered at East Elementary School on Monday to learn more about the school’s impending closure at the end of the academic year and ask questions about what's next in the process.

"This was a fair process, an objective process and, ultimately, a very difficult decision for our board of education to make," said Superintendent Dave Ulrich.

Declining enrollment and a desire to better utilize district resources were the primary motivations behind the consideration to close a school.

The Blythe Group — consultants hired to assist with the process — found enrollment in the district had decreased by about 25 since 2010. Additionally, long-term population forecasts predict almost no expected growth through 2050.

Closing a school was originally estimated to result in about $750,000 in annual savings.

That projection has since been lowered to account for fewer than expected cuts in staff and less savings on food and liability insurance. The total savings to be realized by closing the school is currently estimated at more than $580,000, according to Finance Director John Wall.

Recommended Stories For You

The final savings will depend on decisions yet to be made by the board.

"Making the decision will allow us to do new, different and better things for our kids, for your kids. We are already looking at what those things will be, for example, new commitments to math, science, engineering and technology curriculum," Ulrich told parents of East students during the meeting.

The recommendation adopted by the Moffat County School District Board of Education on Thursday includes the following provisions.

• Close East Elementary School

• Consolidate the three remaining elementary schools, retaining the same K-5, 6-8, 9-12 conventional grade configuration.

• Divide the East classes between Sunset Elementary School and Sandrock Elementary School.

• Redistribute preschool to accommodate those removed from East.

• Consider adoption of a recommended boundary, which balances overall enrollment and special student needs.

• Adapt the core area of Sunset and Sandrock to address non-core curriculum and student service needs, as necessary.

• Consider adding a parent drop off/parking area on the north side of Sandrock.

The Blythe Group report has provided recommendations for new attendance boundaries, a reduction in teachers across the remaining elementary schools, addition of parking and drop-off lanes along Rose Street near Sandrock and minor renovations to Sandrock locker rooms to add space for science, technology, engineering and science classes.

During the question-and-answer portion of the meeting, parents asked about transportation, class size, school of choice, teacher turnover, paraprofessional support, future uses of East, parking at Sandrock and what would be done with the money saved by the closure.

Approving new attendance boundaries is one of the many decisions the board will need to make in the coming eight months.

"As a parent, I think that the initial information that we got gets us started, but I think the board has to finalize boundaries, and that's forthcoming," said board member Chris Thome, who is also a parent of East students.

Determining boundaries will also help determine which students will be transported to either Sunset or Sandrock.

"The boundaries have not been officially approved by the board of education, however, the boundaries do achieve the goals set by the board of education to balance the student population among the three remaining schools. I do not expect the proposed boundaries to change significantly," Ulrich said. He added he expects a final decision in January.

Class sizes are expected to increase but will remain within the guidelines developed by the board of education.

While School of Choice will still be available, the number of spaces for students transferring in from other attendance areas is expected to shrink.

To assist parents, Ulrich plans to open a preliminary round of School of Choice before Spring Break to get a sense of where parents might want their children to attend.

The same number of paraprofessionals will be employed across the three remaining elementary schools.

"I can't promise that they will have the same paras; I can promise your student will have the same level of support," Ulrich said.

A redeployment team has been created to assist with the reallocation of staff.

"I know there has been a great outpouring for (East) Principal Sarah Hepworth. … She has over two decades of service. She will have an opportunity to serve kids on behalf of the school district in our community next year," Ulrich told parents.

Many of the uncertainties raised by parents are conditions students might have faced, even if the school had remained open.

"No matter what district you are in, there are no guarantees what teacher or para you are going to have. I sympathize and completely understand, but the school doesn't control that. Every year, teachers move; there's an ebb and flow," Thome said.

Another detail the board has yet to decide is what to do with the building.

"First, we'll look at selling this building; next, how best to utilize this building, and one of those ideas is to bring the admin building up here," Ulrich said.

The decision of which school to close comes about five months before the end of the current school year and about eight months before the beginning of the next school year, which allows time for the transition details to be decided, as well as to honor the school.

"If you add up all the kids and all the staff members, there are thousands of years of education represented in this building. We will take the time to honor this school," Ulrich said.

Parents also asked about plans to introduce students to their new schools.

"I have already talked with the other three elementary school principals," Ulrich said. "They are already thinking of ways to welcome your students and staff members into their building."

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.

Fast facts about closing East Elementary

• All four elementary schools were identified as closure candidates. Maybell Elementary School was never considered for closure.

• Consultants developed 18 criteria to rank each school for possible closure. Consultants and the district senior leadership team — school district department heads — gave East the lowest total ranking, identifying it as the best candidate for closure.

• Academic performance was not one of 18 criteria used to rank the schools for closure.

• Class sizes are expected to increase, but the increases are expected to fall within longstanding guidelines established by the school board.

• Four to six fewer elementary school teachers will be needed across all schools. Job loss is expected to come from normal attrition. For the past five years, the lowest attrition rate was seven, while the average was about 10.

• School of Choice will continue, however, the number of spaces available at each school for students from other attendance areas will be reduced.

• To date, the district has paid a little more than $51,000 to the Blythe Group for services that included a team of four consultants, at least six visits to Craig, research, development of survey and ranking tools and data collection. The effort resulted in a 64-page final report supporting the recommendation to close East.

• The superintendent was authorized by the board to spend up to $92,000 for consultant services; the negotiated contract with the Blythe Group was for a little less than $70,000 plus expenses.

• The school board received the Blythe Group’s data along with its regular meeting agenda and board packet, typically sent the Friday prior to a board meeting. Members were able to independently consult with the superintendent but did not meet or confer until the Dec. 14.

• The school board must still take action to determine what’s next for the building. Options include seeking a buyer or public partnership to liquidate the building, placing the building in stasis or relocating the administration offices and preschool to East and selling or placing in stasis the current administration building on Yampa Avenue.

• Closure will result in an estimated savings of more than $580,000, less than the original estimate of $750,000. The initial estimate proposed further staffing reductions, differences in savings on food costs and liability insurance. The final savings will depend on decisions yet to be made by the board.

•  The money saved “will allow us to do new, different and better things for our kids, for your kids,” Ulrich said.