West Carroll faces public push back on possible high school closure

A large number of community members showed up at the Dec. 18 meeting of the West Carroll School Board to voice their concerns about a recent recommendation of a facilities and enrollment study to close the West Carroll High School in Savanna and relocate those students and teachers to the Middle School in Mt. Carroll.

Vicki Woods of Mt. Carroll asked about the state of the high school dishwasher, which she said “had been broke down for over a year now”.

“I don’t understand how it’s OK to allow this dishwasher to be broke down for so long, and yet they find funds to buy a sports mini-bus,” she said.

Kathy Christensen of Savanna questioned the facilities study the district recently had performed. She said she’d read that such a study is to be conducted, every 10 years,and the last study was completed in 2015. “So who would have requested the study, and why for 2019?”, she asked.

She went on to say she’d heard rumors about a potential closure for the high school and had reached out to some individuals and that the superintendent had replied to the Savanna Chamber of Commerce to the effect that there were no discussions currently going on regarding this potential closure.

“It really appeared quite brightly that really is a very hot topic, probably within the school district, that maybe a lot of us have not had privilege to know about,” she said.

Savanna Mayor Chris Lain also addressed the board, briefly asking “how will the closing of the high school in Savanna impact future growth of the school district, our communities and local businesses? “

Dave Engaldo from Savanna read a prepared letter, only part of which is summarized here.

He noted that the facilities and planning study presented at the November meeting “seems to focus primarily on one approach, the building reorganization.”

He said he felt the justification for this seems to “fit a preconceived narrative that building reorganization is the way to go. Though the study was professionally done and certainly factual in nature, we believe it is too narrow in scope to be the sole basis for such a critical decision as closing a school, forcing the relocation of a significant number of teachers, staff and students. In addition we believe that the conditions of described in the report, and the cost to mitigate these conditions are overstated or that there may be less costly alternative solutions that need to be explored.

“The study’s primary focus is clearly economic; the phrase ‘improve the economic future of the district was used prominently in both the introduction and conclusions of the study but interestingly there is little reference or discussion throughout the study regarding quality of education.

“We believe, my wife and I, that the administration and school board should slow down undertake a more thorough and objective investigation of the pros and cons not only of the building reorganization approach, but also other alternatives including retaining the current high school.

“We believe that the administration and school board owe it to our respective communities to examine every possible alternative from both an economic and quality education perspective in a fair and objective way.

“That’s the only means to ensure an ultimate solution that’s fiscally responsible, educationally sound and broadly acceptable to all the residents of District 314.”

Scott Law asked: “If the high school is moved, should we be transporting twice the number of students or approximately twice the number of students a longer distance which will increase busing and personal information costs for students and parents?”

Jerry Anderson, former district board president, of Savanna, thanked the board for their service to the community.

“Some people here don’t realize what you guys have to do in making all of these decisions. I have a lite insight on that and I know it’s not easy,” he said.

Anderson referred back to the “Committee of Ten” that organized the original consolidation of the district, which he said, “rushed to a lot of decisions, we’re still paying for them decisions.”

He said mistakes were made because of the rush and lack of studies. He said the district needed to get this right, for it would “affect our district, our children, for many years to come.”

“Won’t we have to invest more money in the Middle School by possibly adding and updating classrooms as well as for extracurricular activities?,” he asked. “Has the board carefully considered how this will affect preschool, special ed, library, tech facilities, sports van and sports activities, due to space restrictions?

“How will the school board address increased classroom size with in general overcrowding issues? If we do reduce from three buildings to two, won’t teachers be forced to spend less time with each student?,” he continued.

Anderson also asked how the response to public questions would be handled, since they would not be answered at the meeting.

Katzenberger said there would be written responses, which “could be shared individually and publicly.”

Jeff Law, from Savanna, said he’d heard one of the issues with the high school was that the floor tile contained asbestos. He told the board that it is possible, if this is true, to “lay over the top of it”.

“You don’t have to rip it up, a rubber roof can be done in pieces. It still has to be glued, it has to be glued when it was new, so that’s no big problem, you just do the worst parts first,” he said.

Chris Sullivan of Savanna said she’d been part of a group trying to find alternative solutions to the budget issues other than closing the high school.

“It is truly disheartening that our only solution presented by our superintendent is a decision that will negatively impact our children, our teachers and our community,” she said.

She asked why the superintendent didn’t consider including a “team of educators” to help with the recently done facility study” and she felt the study concentrated on “reasons to close the Savanna High School”.

“It is my understanding the planning should include all West Carroll buildings,” she said, adding that the focus of the superintendent should be how to improve the quality of education in a cost effective manner for the district.

Sullivan asked the superintendent to “be more forward thinking and please consider the long term effects of our high school closing rather than focus on the short term bottom line” and to involve family and community members in the decision.

She encouraged everyone to visit the “retain West Carroll High School in Savanna” Facebook page. She said she’d discovered statistics showing that smaller schools and classrooms sizes are better for students and teachers, and that students are negatively impacted by moving from one school to another.

Sullivan said the lack of a quality school district will discourage families to come to our area, and cause families to leave the district.

Susan Sullivan-Dauphin of Savanna asked what the timing and process was for making a decision regarding the high school.