SP officials field questions on plans

Published 1:46 pm Tuesday, September 23, 2008

SOUTH POINT — It was Ken Cook’s turn in the hot seat as the South Point superintendent fielded most of the questions from vocal parents Monday night wanting to know more about the upcoming changes in the district’s elementary schools.

The grilling was at a two-hour town hall meeting at the old high school where about 75 parents showed up wanting answers.

At issue is how the two new elementary school buildings, now under construction, will be utilized once they open for the school year in 2009.

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Right now there are 254 students at Burlington Elementary and 617 at South Point Elementary. In a handout circulated before the meeting, it states that the minimum enrollment in an Ohio School Facilities Commission building is 350.

Thus, school officials propose two alternatives: redistricting or re-alignment. With redistricting, students now attending South Point would be bused to Burlington. With re-alignment, one building would house grades K-2. The other would be for 3-5 grades.

“Right now we are open-minded,” Dale West, school board president, told the audience. “It is important to know what parents and teachers think to hopefully get ideas and comments and do what’s best for our kids.”

Four years ago, South Point voters finally passed a levy and bond issue to replace all school buildings. That was the fourth time the district approached voters to replace the aging structures.

Many in the meeting said they felt misled four years ago expecting the demographics of the two schools to remain the same after the buildings were replaced.

“Our property taxes have doubled,” Robin Whaley, parent of a first grader, said. “We live two miles away. There is a chance my child will have to go to Burlington. Is that fair to my child? I feel like you are playing catch up because of poor decisions. We voted you guys in because we trusted you. There will be a re-election.”

One parents asked Cook about the possibility of consolidating the two elementaries.

“That option was on the table when the levy was voted down. The third time when the bond went down,” Cook said.

Later in the meeting when the possibility of “misrepresentation” when district officials campaigned for the levy in 2004 was brought up again, the superintendent said, “We told you we would build a building in Burlington and that is what we did.”

A factor for the disparity in enrollment between the two schools, parents were told, comes from open enrollment that has allowed 130 Burlington students to attend Chesapeake schools, Cook said.

“Four years ago when the levy passed didn’t you have an idea about the migrating?” Whaley asked.

Other issues parents brought up ranged from class size to the amount of time students would spend on the buses.

“If you have kids from Sheridan, they are going to be a lot longer on a bus than you are counting on,” a mother said.

The superintendent went on the defensive when parent Chris Smith made reference to the fact that Cook lives outside the school district.

“I’ve been in this district 34 years. I’ve always been concerned about the kids in South Point,” he said. “I have always fought for the kids in South Point.”

Cook assured the parents that no teachers would lose their jobs, although some would be re-assigned.

Parents were also concerned that the size of the buildings under construction will soon become obsolete since enrollment of the primary grades is already at capacity.

Currently, there are 450 students in K-2 grades and 420 in 3-5 grades. The maximum capacity of the structures is approximately 450 students for each facility.

However, the buildings are designed so additions can be attached. If modifications are necessary, Cook said the OSFC can help out with those costs.

“If there is a certain percentage of population increase, they will help you add on to the building,” he said.

A second town hall meeting will be scheduled before the school board, all of whom, except West, remained silent during the meeting, occasionally taking notes, makes a decision. The board hopes to decide by the end of the year. The date of the next meeting will be announced later.