By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer
CALIFORNIA, Ky. - As part of state education requirements, Kentucky fourth-graders must complete a written portfolio that includes persuasive writing in the form of a letter.
At A.J. Jolly Elementary School, a small, worn school hard by the Ohio River in this rural Campbell County community, those letters were written and presented Tuesday night to the four members of the county's board of education.
The goal of the letters, according to longtime A.J. Jolly Principal Ann Painter, is to persuade the board members not to close the school next year.
"I cannot comprehend how anyone can tell a community that this is the right thing to do for kids," said Painter, who presented the letters to board members during a public hearing on the potential closing.
More than 200 parents and community members attended the hearing, most of whom hoped to persuade the board that closing the school is the wrong decision.
"Large schools are not what the community desires," said parent Barbara Loos.
"If the school is closed," added parent Laura Albrecht as she addressed the board as well as the district's top administrators, "you are going to lose a lot of students to parochial schools."
Facing a budget deficit of more than $2 million, caused mainly by less funding coming in from the cash-strapped state, Campbell County Schools Superintendent Roger Brady has outlined a series of budget cuts to the board that includes closing A.J. Jolly at the end of this school year.
The 153 students at A.J. Jolly would be merged into Alexandria Elementary. But within the next few years a new school would be built in place of Alexandria Elementary.
Parents at A.J. Jolly have repeatedly told school officials that they understand that their elementary school will eventually have to close. The building is prone to flooding because of its proximity to the river.
And according to a presentation Tuesday by Sharon Alexander, who oversees buildings at the district, A.J. Jolly needs repairs to its roof, plumbing, electrical system, heating system, parking lot and playground.
But parents are asking the district to keep A.J. Jolly open until the new elementary school is open. That would prevent students from having to change schools twice in just a few years.
Parents made their case Tuesday to the board.
Among the points they made:
A.J. Jolly has some of the highest test scores, not just in the district but among schools across the state.
Research done by state and national education officials indicates smaller schools are more conducive to learning.
If the school is closed and merged with Alexandria Elementary, some students will have to spend more than an hour a day riding a bus to and from school.
The district's own analysis indicates that because of the way it is laid out, Alexandria Elementary does not meet stringent safety requirements for access by the public to the school.
"We know Alexandria Elementary is a good school," Albrecht said. "We're just a little wary about sending our kids there ... because of the safety aspects."
But district officials and principals from other schools, including the high school and middle school principals in Campbell County, also made presentations and indicated they too are facing budget cuts because of the district's financial situation.
"This is a district wide problem ... that is affecting kids in every school," said Campbell County High School Principal Anthony Strong.
Some parents expressed frustration with officials in the district office.
Keith Daniels said while the district has claimed closing A.J. Jolly will save $240,000, officials have not fully documented that figure.
Daniels also said the district office has implied that if A.J. Jolly remains open, 30 teaching and other positions will be cut at other Campbell County schools.
It is not clear when a vote will be taken on the proposed closing. Another hearing on the merger will be held tonight at 7 p.m. at Alexandria Elementary.
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