A proposal to close an elementary school was put on hold after board members asked for more information and community members pushed to keep the school open.

Woodstock School District 200 administrators presented the Board of Education with a plan Oct. 10 to close or repurpose Dean Street Elementary School.

The Facilities Review Committee, established by the board last year, recommended closing the school as part of an effort to cut costs and reduce empty classroom space.

Closing Dean would save the district $595,880 annually, according to calculations from district administrators. The bulk of the savings — $530,000 — would come from the elimination of  salaries and benefits for non-teaching staff, including those for a principal, nurse, secretaries and custodians. The proposal does not call for laying off teachers.

A second proposal presented alongside the closure treats the plan as more of a repurposing, moving the specialty programs at Clay Academy into the Dean building and shuttering Clay. District administrators calculated the annual savings for this variation of the plan to be $604,483.

In both scenarios, Dean’s current students would be sent to either Olson Elementary, Westwood Elementary or Verda Dierzen Early Learning Center, depending on their grade level and enrollment in mono- or dual-language programs.

Districtwide, elementary schools are at about 70 percent capacity; closing Dean to students would bring that to 83 percent. The district’s most recent enrollment tally shows Dean with a student body of 309.

Over 10 years, Superintendent Mike Moan said, the plans would save the district $2 million to $2.2 million.

“Just to reiterate, this isn’t a recommendation,” Moan said. “We’re bringing what the board asked us to bring. No action is pending on this. It will be a discussion of the board about what you’d like to see and when. If we’re not given any direction, we won’t do anything else with it. … We’re not pushing to close a school.”

Karen Hendrickson addresses the school board Oct. 10. Independent Photo by Whitney Rupp

Karen Hendrickson was one of eight residents or Dean staff members who spoke against the proposal at the meeting. A member of Dean’s PTO whose two children attend the school, Hendrickson said one reason she purchased her home was its proximity to a neighborhood school.

“There’s a financial impact that’s not about saving $96 a year on taxes,” she said. “It’s about what happens when nobody looks at this community anymore and they don’t want to live here. When the costs of houses go down, when the value of the community goes down, when the crime rates go up because the buildings are unattended, because people stop caring about what it looks like, because your kids stop wanting to pick up the garbage that somebody else leaves on the playground.”

Board President Carl Gilmore said he wasn’t comfortable setting a date for a vote by the board, saying he was concerned about creating an “artificial deadline.” At a prior meeting, Moan recommended the board come to a decision in November or December if the board wanted changes made for the next school year.

“My personal feeling is we’re not ready to do anything right now, and I understand that that may mean that we don’t do anything and we’re not going to be able to implement anything by next year, but I don’t feel real comfortable with any of the options, and I’d like to have more time to consider them,” Gilmore said. “… There are a couple things that have come up tonight that were mirroring things that were on my mind. One of them is that I don’t think we’ve had enough community involvement in deciding this particular issue.”

Board member John Parisi served on the Facilities Review Committee.

“I don’t think we’ve done a good job of communicating why this would be beneficial or why it is necessary for the district,” Parisi said. “But again, when we look at the budget and the enrollment, I think we do need to take these hard looks at the buildings. … I don’t think we’re ready to make that decision, but I think it’s a decision and a conversation that we need to keep going and moving forward.”

Moan also discussed the other proposals forwarded to the board by the committee, including selling the district’s administrative office building and ending a lease on an office annex, the latter of which already has been completed.

Board members agreed to revisit the proposal after having a chance to gather more information.

“I will make that recommendation for consideration by the board, that all board members submit their questions to the administration by the second meeting in November, and administration can provide us with some updated information and overall planning for a potential vote by the end of January,” Gilmore said.

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