At the March 14 meeting of the Muscatine Community School Board, the decision was cast to close Washington School. The board viewed a presentation by school Superintendent Dr. Jerry Riibe showing the projected enrollment decline and projected decrease of SSA funding from the state of Iowa.
Dr. Riibe emphasized the importance of keeping the educational experience, “not just reading, writing, and math, but art and music. Education is about the whole person.” Riibe went on to explain the importance of not cutting programs such as these to save the district money. While it may seem counter intuitive, the closing of Washington now will help provide the future funds needed for these programs.
Part of Dr. Riibe’s presentation included an explanation of how MCSD is looking five years or more into the future. Riibe explained that the district would be fine to continue at the status quo and not take drastic action, and business would continue as usual for the next few years. However, without change taking place, MCSD would be in danger of running at a deficit within six years. In the state of Iowa, it is illegal for a school district to carry a negative balance for any period of time.
“School districts who fail to look five to ten years into the future, who fail to make the hard choices, tend to be the districts that end up cutting programs such as music, art, and cutting technology,” Dr. Riibe said. “We need to make the hard choices now to help insure that we use tax payer dollars as wisely as possible.”
Following the presentation by Dr. Riibe, Board member Tim Bower made the motion saying, “With regret, but hope for the future, I move that we close Washington School.” The motion was seconded by Board member Nathan Mather.
The vote passed with a unanimous vote.
Speaking with the Voice of Muscatine after the meeting, Board President Tammy Drawbaugh said that the members of the board are aware of how difficult the process is and what the decision means to the community as a whole. “The board has spent at least the last year, if not closer to two years talking about what kinds of changes we would need to make as we move forward. There has always been discussion about the potential of a building closing, and it’s never an easy topic.”
Drawbaugh further explained the awareness of the impact on families and the community as a whole, “Growing up in this community and thinking about what grade school it might have been, it’s hard to do; it’s a very emotional thing to do. However, knowing that by making this tough decision, we can offer some different things for our students that we might not be able to otherwise.”
The closing of the school in addition to other cost-cutting measures from the district will allow for programs involving music, art and technology to not be cut. The board also discussed the need for maintenance and improvements to the existing schools in order for the buildings to remain safe, efficient and usable for years to come.
- Riibe reiterated that the teachers will not be losing their positions, rather will be reassigned to other positions in the district. Some assignments have already been handed out to faculty, however, not all assignments are known yet.
The district will be working with openings created by retirements and other faculty leaving positions for other reasons to ensure that all positions are filled while maintaining the current faculty first.
The board also discussed the amount of pressure that the faculty and staff of Washington school have worked under for the past several months. Board member Randy Naber expressed this sentiment, “I’d also like to thank the parents, staff and the administration at Washington because they’ve made this move we are looking at so much easier. As a board member, I have received no communication. That kind of tells me that we’ve moved about this in the right way. It kind of helps me see that the people directly involved kept their emotions that were there from becoming emotions of anger and it will help the students as they transition. They will be happier knowing that their parents, their fellow students and everyone else are doing okay.”
A map of the new boundary lines can be found on the school districts website, or at voiceofmuscatine.com. In addition to the new boundary map, the district has added a feature that allows families to enter their address and be informed as to which school they will be in under the new boundaries. The tool can be found at http://www.muscatine.k12.ia.us/maps/ this feature will let parents see which elementary and middle school their home falls under. There will be exceptions, and the district will consider requests for transfers from Washington families first. The tool does not tell whether the home is considered a walking route or a bus route.
It is anticipated that the building will be placed up for sale, though no details are yet available.
The closure of the school will be effective at the end of the 2015-2016 school year.