January 13, 2010
Consultants say keep Hartnett school open
Final decision in hands of school board, which will consider enrollment, savings from closure
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Brandon West holds the hand of kindergartner K.J. Sabin as they walk home from Hartnett Elementary School Tuesday afternoon. Homer School District is considering closing the school on Academy Street.
HOMER — Applause from about 50 people followed a consultant’s recommendation Tuesday not to close Hartnett Elementary School in Truxton, primarily to provide better flexibility for the school district with future enrollment.
A pair of consultants hired by the Homer Central School District have spent five months conducting a feasibility study, weighing the pros and cons of closing the school.
Consultants Alan Pole and Phil Martin presented seven recommendations Tuesday evening during the Board of Education meeting at Homer High School auditorium.
They said among the most important factors to consider were the $562,235 total cost savings should the school close, and if the district would have flexibility with student enrollment numbers in years to come.
But ultimately, Pole said, closing Hartnett Elementary would leave little, if any, flexibility for reorganizing classrooms in the near future should the need arise.
Among the recommendations, Pole said considerable weight should be given regarding the cost savings during the decision-making.
Truxton resident Marie Small, who was in attendance Tuesday night, wants the school to stay open.
She was accompanied by her sons Zachary, 9, and Bradley, 6, both of whom attend Hartnett Elementary.
Zachary also hopes the school will not close, saying he likes his teachers.
“It’s fun,” he said.
Although she agrees with the potential cost savings, Small said considering the prospect of longer bus rides, losing student-teacher interaction at Hartnett and declining property values would do all Truxton residents a disservice, should the elementary school close.
The consultants’ recommendation is still the first step for the Board of Education, which has plenty to consider before reaching a final decision, board President Scott Ochs said.
“I don’t think the board will make a decision without all the factors,” he said.
Balancing long-term flexibility and fiscal concerns for the district were clearly stated by the consultants, Ochs said.
More feedback from the public is needed before any decision is made, Ochs said.
There was no public comment allowed at the meeting, but Ochs said the public would be allowed to address board members in two weeks at a regular meeting.
The prospect of closing the school was met with vehement protest during a public forum in early December, which drew a crowd of more than 100 people into the high school auditorium.
Small said she was at the forum. She said the small-school atmosphere is what attracts her and her children to Hartnett Elementary.
“It’s like a family,” Small said.
Small said she believes the board will decide to keep the elementary school open.
Pole said the board is free to make any decision on how to best utilize Hartnett Elementary and potential enrollment decline should not factor into the decision. The consultants gave a projected 3 percent decline in enrollment at the school over the next five years.
Other findings during the study were that class sizes would continually vary at the school and student progress and performance should be monitored and not affect the decision regarding the school’s fate.
The quality of education at Hartnett is comparable to the district’s two other elementary schools, the consultants said.
Closing the school would reduce the district tax levy by about 4 percent, Pole said.
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