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School closure an option for Esky

ESCANABA — Escanaba Area Public Schools’ Superintendent Coby Fletcher and the Escanaba School Board are following a timeline to consider whether or not to close one of the district’s schools, and if so, which one.

After two failed attempts to pass a sinking fund, they realized the budget needed to be reviewed to save for repairs that will inevitably arise in all of the school buildings, averaging 65 years old. Immediately, Fletcher started working on the budget.

“Because the district doesn’t receive state funds for maintenance and repair, we need to find other ways to set aside funds to take care of our buildings,” said Fletcher. “With the failure of the sinking fund at the ballot box, we are looking at ways we can tighten our belts and become more efficient without cutting programs and services.”

One way to tighten the budget is to combine campuses. In a special meeting Feb. 25, Fletcher told the school board he accumulated data from the Escanaba Upper Elementary (EUE), Lemmer and Soo Hill schools to create cost effective options and look at the pros and cons of each school. He came up with two options for the board to consider at that time, close the EUE or Soo Hill.

“If we can do what we’re doing right now in fewer buildings we save money by not operating as many buildings,” Fletcher said.

Along with the two options, he presented the board with three different ways to address the issue. The board went a conservative route. On July 8 reconfiguration was once again brought up and in a board meeting Sept. 9 they discussed a timeline that would produce the resolution by the end of the year.

In option one the EUE would close, sixth graders would move to the high school, first through fifth grades would either go to Lemmer or Soo Hill school. The schools’ central office, technology department and technology equipment would all remain in the EUE building. According to Fletcher, option one would provide a $398,000 cost savings.

Option two moves grades first and second to Lemmer and third through fifth to the EUE. Sixth grade would again move to the high school. Soo Hill school would close and would be leased or sold. Fletcher told the board option two would provide a savings of $313,000.

Fletcher and the school board are constantly working on ideas to save the school district money. They reviewed the rental rates of school facilities and raised the rates to reflect the current inflation rates from the 1970’s. They have reviewed selling surplus or unused properties, and sold the Wells Elementary school this year to the Northern Lights YMCA.

“In order to keep all of our current schools open the district will need some kind of increase in revenue,” said Fletcher. “This could come from increases to our general fund if the state decides to change the way it pays for schools, increases in students numbers, or through a commitment from voters in the form of a sinking fund.”

Fletcher continued to say, the only consistent reliable way to save and set money aside is by finding ways to reduce expenses. And that is what the board is looking at. Though the student enrollment count is higher than what they predicted, it is still 13 students less than last year.

In October Fletcher will go to the board after reviewing the student enrollment numbers and present them with three thoughts, does the board close a school or don’t they. Fletcher may approach the board with the idea to close one of the schools and consolidate campuses, if he does, he will give his recommendation for which building should close and how it would work.

Next, the board would start discussions to decide what would be the best fit and the discussions would involve the community.

Final discussions and decisions would be completed in December.

“Ironically, closing a school could help the local economy,” Fletcher noted. “If the district has more money to invest in fewer buildings while keeping all of our existing programs and services, we can offer a more compelling education to students that we hope will attract families into Escanaba. We’re already seeing success from the work we’ve done over the past couple of years, and becoming more efficient will only accelerate this.”

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