By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer
ALEXANDRIA - Last year when the Campbell County School District couldn't pay for a new teacher at tiny A.J. Jolly Elementary, the school's parents came up with the money.Through a series of fund-raisers that included a walk-a-thon, a dance and some private donations, the school's Parent Teachers Organization raised $29,000.That type of effort is indicative of the devotion and pride the community has for A.J. Jolly, an elementary school of 150 students that sits along the Ohio River in far eastern Campbell County, a number of parents told the Campbell County Board of Education Monday night.
"A.J. Jolly is a community school," parent Debbie Martin, one of more than 250 people in an overflow crowd, told the board of education during a meeting that lasted until after 11 p.m.
"It's a community building, a place where we go to do a lot of things ... and a part of our community we don't want to lose right now," Mrs. Martin said.
But facing a budget shortfall of $1.8 million, due largely to less money coming in from the state, the Campbell County Board of Education is considering closing A.J. Jolly at the end of the school year and merging it with Alexandria Elementary in Alexandria.
The closing of the school, which could save as much as $240,000, is one of the deepest cuts the board is contemplating.
Parents realize that eventually A.J. Jolly School, which was built in 1926 and is vulnerable to flooding when the river rises, will have to close.
But the school board is also trying to restructure some of its long-term debt to come up with $12 million to build a new school that would serve students at A.J. Jolly and Alexandria elementaries.
Parent Gary Combs said the community wants to keep A.J. Jolly open so their children don't have to change schools twice - first through the merger with Alexandria and then again for a new school, which could open in time for the 2004-05 school year.
"Parents are not afraid of a merger," Mr. Combs said. "In fact they are in favor of it. The issue is doing it so fast, so quick without enough time to discuss it with the parents and the community."
The school board did vote Monday to hold two hearings on the merger, Feb. 11 at A.J. Jolly and Feb. 12 at Alexandria Elementary. The hearings begin at 7 p.m.
Supporting the hearings were board members Bob Turner, Carol Dunn and Charles Eifert. Opposing the hearings were members Mike Combs - who is not related to Gary Combs - and Steve Morris.
Superintendent Roger Brady said he is recommending the board consider numerous ways to cut the budget, which must be approved and balanced by late May.
Mr. Brady's recommendations, which he emphasized are only being considered, include, in addition to the school closing:
Eliminating all-day kindergarten, which parents could revive by paying $150 a month per child.
Eliminating elementary art.
Selling the old Cold Spring elementary school building, which houses the district's alternative school for expelled students and some technology offices.
Holding back pay raises for athletic coaches.
Cutting funding for field trips. The costs would have to be picked up by individual schools.
Cutting two bus routes.
Delaying purchases of new buses.
Cutting staff travel and some overtime.
Even with all those cuts and the school closing, the district will still face a deficit of about $180,000, Mr. Brady said.
Most schools in Kentucky are also facing cutbacks and are waiting to see if the Kentucky General Assembly, which begins meeting next week, comes up with additional funding for schools or even makes additional budget cuts. The state faces a $500 million shortfall.
Mr. Turner told the parents to contact their legislators about the funding crisis in education.
"Talk to your legislators," Mr. Turner said. "They are the people who put us in the position we are in."
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