Monday, May 8

Elkhart group seeking information from school board          Send a link to a friend

[MAY 8, 2006]  A group of Elkhart residents, Citizens for Education, has banded together in an effort to learn more about a recent decision of the school board to consolidate the Elkhart and Mount Pulaski junior highs. The residents first heard about the consideration at an informational meeting on Feb. 1. They were told that combining the schools would provide better social and academic opportunities for the students and that this was not, yet, a financial issue.

However, at the next Mount Pulaski Community Unit District 23 Board of Education meeting, on Feb. 27, the board announced that they would be going forth with the consolidation, only now it was for financial reasons.

According to accounts of people in attendance at that meeting, the floor was opened to the public. Residents, community leaders and parents addressed the board. Some expressed opposition; others asked for the information that led the board to their decision.

Reportedly the board listened to public responses but had no responses to questions about the decision-making process and the district finances.

The following month, on March 27, the floor was not opened to comments, and the measure to consolidate the grades was passed with one board member in opposition.

The joining of the two junior high classes is set to begin one year from this fall. Elkhart sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students would be bused to Mount Pulaski starting the 2007-2008 school year.

Seventy-eight students attend the K-8 Elkhart Grade School. At present 15-17 would be transferred, with a possible 27-30 transferred in the future.

Community leaders and numerous residents said they were disappointed that they were not listened to, and they did not get answers to their questions.

When LDN contacted the school board president, David Meister, for confirmation of information or comment, he refused any comment or to confirm information. Likewise, calls placed to Superintendent Phil Shelton were not returned.

Community leaders would like the action postponed. They feel the community is ready to grow, and this would help not only the Elkhart School, but also the whole district. A new subdivision has already been established with a seed home ready, and lots are prepared to be built on. Additionally, up the hill there were eight lots added last year. It is believed that growth, bringing children into the schools, will come in Elkhart over the next couple of years and that growth will only serve to strengthen the whole school district.

Village President Steve Anderson said he had met with a couple of school officials, including Shelton and Meister, and heard of their views and potential plans when he first took office. He said they all agreed to allow the new housing developments that were in process opportunity to bring new families into the community.

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Concerns of the residents are threefold

  • The loss of the junior high classes would make the community less marketable.

  • Once the classes are gone it would be difficult to bring them back even if there was growth.

  • The remaining K-5 classes in the school are at greater risk for future consolidation.

Residents would also like to see the stats on how the district will save money by moving the three classes.

Other financial factors

The school district taxpayers' money all goes in one pot for all the students in the school district.

Last year Elkhart residents paid $94,218 ($50,978.73 from Elkhart Township and $43,240 Hurlbut Township) into the school district. This was 31 percent of the $304,500.67 taxes collected within the school district.

The school board decided to renovate the Mount Pulaski High School cafeteria last year. Reportedly the project deviated from the $1.2 million original plan and became a 10,000-foot addition that not only included a new kitchen and cafeteria, but also added two new classrooms, doubling the price to end at $2.4 million expansion.

Residents are disappointed that their voices have not been heard by the board. They feel that keeping the school in the community would increase the community's opportunity to grow, and then all would benefit from that growth, with benefits to the entire school district.

Citizens for Education has requested financial and past meeting information from the school board in order to understand the board's decision.

Citizens for Education meets tonight at 7 p.m. at the town hall to discuss progress and future plans. Everyone from the school district is invited to attend the meeting. They are looking for opinions and thoughts on the future of Elkhart Grade School.

[Jan Youngquist]

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