Wednesday, July 11, 2001

Ft. Thomas drops idea to close school

By Lori Hayes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FORT THOMAS — A proposal to shut down one of the city's three elementary schools was killed Monday night.

        In an unexpected move, the Fort Thomas school board voted unanimously to drop the idea because of opposition from parents and community members.

        Superintendent Larry Stinson recommended the board set up a committee to study the proposal to downsize to two elementary schools, but board members decided not to move forward.

[photo] Woodfill was one school facing a possible shutdown.
(Enquirer file photo)
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        “I have never been in favor of this,” said board member Brad Fennell, who made the motion to drop the idea. “It would only do damage to leave it out there as a burning ember, as a possibility that would continue to fester in the community.”

        Blaming a lack of state funding, the top-performing school district considered closing one of the elementary schools to cut costs. The potential savings were not enough to justify closing a school, Mr. Fennell said.

        “It doesn't make good educational sense, I'm not for it,” he said. “And nobody has proven to me yet that it does.”

        District leaders said the plan was preliminary and few details had been worked out. The board never voted in support of the proposal, but some wanted to consider the possibility. District leaders took the idea to the public in May at three forums.

        Several parents spoke against the proposal, with concerns ranging from increased traffic at the schools to decreased parental involvement to a loss of the district's small neighborhood schools, an attraction for parents.

        While district officials never pointed to which school would be closed — Moyer, Johnson or Woodfill — parents and community members were convinced the district was targeting Woodfill, which is in the poorest physical condition of the three buildings.

        “There were few people in support of it, and they were not very vocal,” Mr. Stinson said. “I wasn't surprised the board decided it wasn't worth the hassle of studying it because of the atmosphere in the community.”

        Fort Thomas, along with a few other Northern Kentucky school districts, is pressing the state to change the way it funds schools. It could take years to bring change, and the district must find a more immediate way to deal with a tight budget, Mr. Stinson said.

        A property tax increase and cuts in staffing and programs are among the possibilities.

        Mr. Fennell said he wants the board to focus its efforts on lobbying state lawmakers to change Kentucky's school funding system.

        The Kentucky Department of Education's funding formula — designed to equalize funding — is based on local property values. Districts with high property values, such as Fort Thomas, bring in more local taxes, so they get less state money.


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