Tuesday, May 22, 2001

Fort Thomas could close school

State funding issues bedeviling

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FORT THOMAS — The Fort Thomas Independent Schools system has scheduled three public meetings to discuss a consolidation plan that could close one of its elementary schools.

        Despite the district's reputation as one of Kentucky's best public school systems, officials say that several factors, including inadequate state funding, are prompting them to consider a possible reorganization.

  • What: Three public meetings to discuss the potential reorganization of Fort Thomas Independent Schools' three elementaries
  • When: May 29, Moyer gym; May 30, Johnson gym; and June 4, Woodfill cafeteria. All meetings are at 7 p.m.
  • Information: Call Superintendent Larry Stinson at (859) 781-3333, Ext. 120.
        Under a proposal being considered, all three elementary schools — Moyer, Johnson and Woodfill — would be closed, and two would be reopened under new names with new grade configurations, possibly K-2 at one building and 3-5 at another.

        No decision has been made about which building would be closed or what the grade configurations would be specifically at the two remaining elementaries, should the school board opt to make any changes, Superintendent Larry Stinson said.

        Tracy McMath, the school board chairwoman, described the plan as “very preliminary.” She said nothing will be decided until after the school board has heard from the community, and any consolidation of schools would be a year or more away.

        “We're asking the public to listen to what we have to say, and not just react to the

        feeling that we've already decided something and are trying to sell it to them,” Mr. Stinson said. “If we get enough input saying, "Forget it. We don't want you to pursue it,' that will be the end of it.”

        Last fall, Fort Thomas Independent Schools ranked among the “Best 100 School Districts” in Offspring, a national parenting magazine.

        The district's scores on the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills, a nationally normed test that's now part of Kentucky's accountability system for its schools, also are “way above the state average,” said Lisa Gross, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education.

        As an example, last year, Kentucky's third-graders ranked in the 55th percentile for the subjects tested, while Johnson's third-graders were in the 82nd percentile, Moyer's were in the 77th percentile and Woodfill's were in the 73rd percentile, Ms. Gross said.

        Mr. Stinson said the district doesn't want to tinker with its success. “But we need to be as cost-effective and as efficient as we possibly can,” he said.

        Before adoption of the Kentucky Education Reform Act, Fort Thomas schools received about 60 percent of their funding from the state, Mr. Stinson said. Since then, that figure has slipped to less than 50 percent.

        “When KERA was passed in 1990, we lost a significant amount of funding,” Mrs. McMath said. “We are 167th out of 174 (school districts) in money we have to spend per pupil.”

        Even if the school board decides to consolidate its elementary schools, a property tax increase will likely be needed sometime after this year, “unless the state legislature significantly changes how it funds schools,” Mr. Stinson said.

        Another factor prompting district officials to consider reorganization was next year's opening of a new middle school, which will take sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students.

        “With the sixth grade moving out (of the elementaries), Johnson and Woodfill are projected to drop below 300 students within the next two years,” Mr. Stinson said. “State regulations will not allow us to spend building fund money to upgrade or replace a school that has less than 300 students.”


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