The following guest opinion by Chris Liebig appeared in the May 13 Press-Citizen:
Last month, our school district’s administrators released several possible “updates” to the district’s facilities plan. All of the updates continued to close Hoover Elementary, and two of the three updates would have closed additional elementary schools as well.
District officials were taken aback by the coverage of the updates, which emphasized the possibility of more school closings. The “recommended” update closed only Hoover, they argued, not the other schools. The other updates were just “thought exercises,” the superintendent said.
But no one had to look very far for evidence that the administration is inclined to close more schools. During the facilities planning process two years ago, many of the scenarios included school closures, and some would have closed multiple schools — even though district enrollment is projected to grow. And, of course, the school board did vote to close a school, Hoover, even though the majority of the public feedback favored keeping all existing schools open.
As the school board election approaches, the people who support the Hoover closure will try to convince you that it is somehow unique. “We want to close Hoover,” the argument will go, “but don’t worry, we’d never want to close your school.”
But a candidate’s support for closing Hoover tells you something: it shows a willingness to close a school for less-than-compelling reasons. For there have never been convincing reasons to close Hoover. We were told that we can save money by having fewer, larger schools — but any savings is dwarfed by the millions it will cost to replace Hoover’s lost capacity. We were also told that City High needs the Hoover property for — well, for something, someday. (Don’t ask what.)
Anyone who finds those reasons convincing will have no trouble finding reasons to close additional schools, such as Horace Mann, Lincoln, Hills, Longfellow and Shimek — all of which are significantly smaller than Hoover and thus cheaper to replace elsewhere.
The administration’s “updates” made it clear that the issue of school closings is not going away. If you think we should value our existing elementary schools, rather than close some and super-size others, you should ask this year’s board candidates where they stand on the issue.
And if the answer is, “I support closing Hoover, but I’m against school closures,” you’d be smart to look for another candidate.