Central Middle School

Central Middle School

Kokomo-Center School Corp. patrons will have an opportunity to voice opinions on plans to close schools, (See closure options at end of story)redistrict and re-use buildings, in an effort to be more fiscally efficient and provide equitable opportunities to all students.

Superintendent Thomas Little Jr. said the Blue Ribbon Steering Committee has received several options for school configurations and closures since the last community forum in June, and will discuss those plans and have a few possibilities to present by the Oct. 24 meeting.

He said the school board wants the process to be open to the public, because decisions to close schools and redistrict are emotional issues.

• Results of the community survey administered in June, and the complete options presentation is available at www.kokomo.k12.in.us

• Kokomo-Center will host a second public forum at 6 p.m. Oct. 24 at Kokomo High School.

“Whenever you start talking about those issues, it brings to the forefront a lot of emotions. The reason for that is, we’re talking about children. We’re not talking about bricks and mortar, we’re talking about children. We can’t lose sight of the fact we’re talking about people.”

He said the board started the process for the facilities use study about a year ago, hiring DeJong and Associates to lead the study, to help determine how to meet its long-term goals of providing financial resources sufficient to meet needs, make decisions based on research and data collection analysis, provide equitable opportunity to teachers and students to participate in all school programs and to enlist community partners and resources to provide students real-life educational experiences.

The board has determined its greatest needs are in expanding alternative education opportunities, early education opportunities and opportunities for gifted and talented students and raising salaries and benefits to compete for the best and brightest teachers.

Little said to meet all these goals, the board will need $2 million to $3 million each year, but state funding will not increase enough to fund these programs.

In 2007, the district received a 1.4 percent increase, and Little said it will receive a 1.3 percent increase in 2008. The state is now placing more emphasis on enrollment when determining increases, meaning that a school with stable enrollment, like Kokomo-Center, will not receive increases. At a recent budget meeting, Eric Rody, the corporation’s director of business affairs, said Kokomo’s increase was because of the percentage of students receiving free and reduced lunch.

Little said this year, more than 50 percent of Kokomo’s student population are on free or reduced lunch.

“We have so many needs in the district, and the Legislature is not giving us any more money,” Little said.

He said the alternative school program, which is at McKinley School, currently has 68 students, but they need to service about 250 students. The McKinley building doesn’t have that kind of capacity, he said.

“Our community has brought us a concern with the suspension and expulsion rate, and students being placed out of school with no supervision,” he said. “The school board truly wants a program in place that will provide alternative education for children who are suspended.” Those students could then be removed from the regular classroom, which provides more stability for the rest of the students, but they would continue to receive an education.

Little anticipates cost to expand the program and add personnel would be about $1 million annually.

Another need is for educational opportunities for children ages 3 and 4, so they will be ready to learn when they arrive in kindergarten. The current Head Start program has a waiting list of 100 children, Little said.

Children are entering school behind, Little said, and teachers are having to work to bring them up to grade level. Offering an early childhood program would create a level playing field for these children, he said. Annual cost would be about $500,000.

Little said the board has also identified gifted and talented education as a need. The corporation has its KEY program for high-ability students at Sycamore Elementary, but the board would like to offer it in the regular buildings, and possibly start a magnet program for high-ability students. Cost would be about $300,000 each year.

Little said the corporation also needs to increase its salary and benefits packages, to compete with other Howard County schools and conference schools for the best teachers. He anticipates that cost at $1.8 million each year.

“The bottom line is, we need to generate between $3 million and $4 million to meet those needs in our district,” he said, adding that closing some buildings and redistricting will generate that money without increasing property taxes.

“Our board does not want to come to the community and ask for a tax increase for this project.”

In the facilities study performed by DeJong Associates, Richter showed the district has about 9,000 student seats available, and a stable enrollment of around 7,000 students each year for the last 10 years. Projected enrollment shows a stable enrollment for the next five to 10 years as well.

Little said not closing schools would be like having Kokomo High School open, with lights and utilities on and teachers in place, and then not opening it to students.

He said schools that are closed and not used for another purpose will be made available to community agencies for other use.

“The school board has told us loud and clear they would not want these buildings to stand and deteriorate,” he said. “There is no intention as far as the school buildings to raze any of them.”

He added, though, that the board has committed to not let a building stand empty and deteriorate, like Roosevelt School did before it was demolished.

One building being considered for reuse is the Central Middle School building, which is on the National Historic Register.

Little said, though, that committee members want people to understand that the Central building must be remodeled. There are electrical and plumbing issues that were not addressed during the last remodel, and the third floor was virtually untouched during that project.

There is also an old industrial arts area on the west end of the building that is being used as storage space.

Estimates just for the electrical and plumbing work are $3 million, Little said.

One possible use for the building is to house the central administration office, the alternative school, the virtual school and a magnet school program. Little said the building is large enough for all those programs to be in the building together, and it would contribute to the revitalization of downtown Kokomo.

That would bring all central office staff downtown, which is about 60 to 80 people, plus all people who interview for jobs with the district would come there.

Little said if the central office moves downtown, the current administration building, which also needs a lot of renovations, could be closed. Cost to renovate the current administration building is about the same as the cost to renovate the central building for use by the administrative staff.

The board hosted a community forum in June, to gather data about what the community wants from its schools. The questionnaire administered at that forum asked questions about class sizes, grade configurations of schools, equitable opportunities for children at all schools, and for comments regarding school closings and redistricting. About 300 people attended that forum, and others completed the survey on the corporation’s Web site.

Tracy Richter from DeJong Associates presented survey results and possible options to the Blue Ribbon Steering Committee Sept. 19. Little said the committee will meet again Oct. 15 in preparation for the public meeting Oct. 24.

He said the committee will consider Richter’s options and may formulate other options as well, to present at the Oct. 24 meeting.

After the public forum, the committee will again consider its options, and Little expects it will bring options for consideration to the school board in February.

The board would take the options under advisement and make a decision shortly after, he said.

Little anticipates any school closures and redistricting would not be done all at once, but would be phased in.

“This isn’t going to be an overnight change. This is going to take time and good planning to maintain the strong educational programs in place.”

He said, though, at this point the committee has not made any decisions.

“This is just the beginning. No decisions have been made. There is no preconceived plan. We’re exploring alternatives to meet the needs of kids with the money that has been provided for us to use.”

Danielle Rush may be reached at (765) 454-8585 or via e-mail at danielle.rush@kokomotribune.com

Closure options:

These are the options presented to the Kokomo-Center Blue Ribbon Steering Committee for closure and re-use of school buildings:

• Option A: Do nothing

• Option B: Close Columbian, Darrough Chapel and Pettit Park elementaries, and Maple Crest and Bon Air middle schools. Annual operational savings of $2.1 million; deficiency savings of $3 million.

• Option C: Close Columbian, Darrough Chapel and Pettit Park elementaries, and Central and Bon Air middle schools. Close McKinley Alternative School, Lincoln School and the administration center, move those programs into the Central Middle School building. Move virtual school into Central Middle School building. Annual operational savings of $2.9 million; deficiency savings of $8.8 million.

• Option D: Close Columbian, Darrough Chapel and Pettit Park elementaries, and Lafayette Park Middle School. Annual operational savings of $2.1 million; deficiency savings of $3 million.

• Option E: 1-4 include five K-2 foundations schools, three grade 3-5 schools, two middle schools, one grade 3-8 magnet school program to be determined, an alternative school for grades 6-12, virtual school and central administration at Central Middle School and HeadStart and pre-K center school at Wallace Elementary. Columbian, Darrough Chapel and Pettit Park elementaries would close, along with the McKinley building, the Lincoln building and the administration center. Wallace Elementary and Central Middle School would be used for other purposes. Annual operational savings of $3.3 million; deficiency savings of $8.8 million.

• Option E-1: Bon Air, Maple Crest, Lafayette Park, Boulevard and Washington would be foundation schools; Bon Air, Central, Maple Crest and Lafayette Park would have grade 3-5 schools and Central, Elwood Haynes and Sycamore would house middle school.

• Option E-2: Bon Air, Maple Crest, Sycamore, Boulevard and Washington would house k-2; Bon Air, Central, Maple Crest and Sycamore would house grades 3-5; Central, Elwood Haynes and Lafayette Park would house grades 6-8.

• Option E-3: Bon Air, Maple Crest, Elwood Haynes, Boulevard and Washington would have k-2 schools; Bon Air, Central, Maple Crest and Elwood Haynes would have 3-5 schools; Central, Lafayette Park and Sycamore would have grades 6-8.

• Option E-4: Bon Air, Sycamore, Elwood Haynes, Boulevard and Washington would have K-2 schools; Bon Air, Central, Sycamore and Elwood Haynes would have 3-5 schools; and Central, Lafayette Park and Maple Crest would have 6-8 schools.

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