Wednesday, May 30, 2001

Ft. Thomas considers school plans

Parents get few details at hearing

By Lori Hayes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FORT THOMAS - Parents came with questions but left with few answers Monday night at the first of three public hearings on a proposal to close one of the city's three elementary schools.

        As audience members asked questions about transportation, class size and money, they were frequently told more discussion was needed.

        Blaming a lack of state funding, Fort Thomas Independent Schools - one of the state's top-performing districts - is considering downsizing to two elementary schools. However, district leaders said the plan is preliminary and few details have been worked out.

        “It seems they're throwing around a lot of numbers, but I don't think we have all the information we need to make an informed decision,” said Tim Downard, who has a first-grader at Moyer Elementary.

        About 150 people filled Moyer's gym to hear about the district's proposal. Two more forums are set for 7 p.m. tonight at Johnson and Monday at Woodfill elementaries.

        District leaders said they wanted to hear from the community before they went forward with the proposal.

        “We do have respect for tradition,” Superintendent Larry Stinson said. “Tradition is part of what makes Fort Thomas what it is. However, we do need to be careful we don't become bogged in that thought.”

        One proposal is to close all three schools - Moyer, Johnson and Woodfill - and reopen two under new names and grade configurations, possibly kindergarten through third grades at one building and fourth and fifth grades at another.

        Several parents spoke against the proposal and repeatedly asked for more information on the district's budget.

        “This is a smoke screen and a scare tactic to get people prepared to belly up to the bar for a tax increase,” said Dan Whitacre, parent of a Moyer first-grader.

        Concerns ranged from increased traffic at the schools to decreased parental involvement if the district split the grades into two schools. Many said the district's small neighborhood schools are part of what attracted them to Fort Thomas.

        Some teachers spoke in favor of the idea.

        “Our facilities and our programs could be better with only two schools,” said Moyer kindergarten teacher Julie Steppe. “All three of us want a science lab. They're not going to give us three labs. We all want a foreign language program, but they're not going to fund three foreign language programs.

        “Parents are looking at how it will inconvenience them, but really they need to look at it educationally.”

        Mr. Stinson listed several reasons why a reorganization may be needed, primarily to cut costs.

        Fort Thomas ranks near the bottom in the state for the amount of money it brings in per student. Because of the community's high property values, the schools get less state money.

        Fort Thomas, along with a few other Northern Kentucky school districts, is pressing the state to change the way it funds schools. But Mr. Stinson said the district must act now to ease its budget crunch.

        Budget projections for the next several years show that the school district would be more than $4 million in the hole by 2007 if it keeps spending at its current rate.

        “We're going to have to do something,” Mr. Stinson said.

        If the district doesn't consolidate the elementary schools, Mr. Stinson said, the board will have to make cuts elsewhere, such as staffing, advanced programs or arts and music — items that enhance the district's quality.

        “If this community decides it wants to keep all three elementary schools, just realize we're going to have to pay for it,” he said.


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