(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) The St. Joseph School District Board of Education voted 6-1 Monday night to close Humboldt and Lake Contrary elementary schools.
The vote came after much discussion by board members and more than an hour of public comment from parents, teachers and other neighborhood supporters of the schools.
The move to close Humboldt, a school with more than 150 years worth of history in the district, was not as controversial. Board members say the age of the facility made it a logical choice for closure.
However, in recent days there had been talk that instead of Lake Elementary it could have been Hyde that was slated to close.
That discussion among the board, first brought up last week at a work session, pitted Southsider against Southsider. Board members say they weighed many factors in their decision. While Hyde is more than 30 years older than Lake (built in 1930 compared to 1961 for Lake), administration estimates showed that maintenance and capital costs in the next five years were actually higher for Lake.
Board members say they regretted their decision, but closing schools has been part of a long-range plan.
"We should have started this process two years ago," said Martin Rucker, president of the board of education. "We've been kicking this can down the road for a while and we can't kick it down any more."
A facilities plan developed in past years by volunteers calls for the district to cut the number of grade schools down from 16 to 12.
The school closure by the board will have Humboldt students moving to Lindbergh next year. In the south, Lake students will be moved to Hosea for 2018-19 except for 6th graders. Sixth-grade students from all Southside schools will be moved to Spring Garden Middle School.
In all, the district made approximately $5.87 million in cuts Monday night. In addition to the school closures, the board also voted to alter the structure of class scheduling at the high schools that will require less staffing and save $2.85 million. The board also voted to restructure some administrative positions, saving another $420,000 yearly.
In all, the board must make nearly $8.5 million in cuts to balance the budget. That number was increased from $7 million when the board voted to give teachers and staff a pay increase next year.
More difficult decisions will be ahead for the board. Other cost-cutting measures they will soon decide will include reducing contributions to the district's self-insured health plan, ending their administration and oversight of programs at Hillyard Technical Center (turning them over to a willing college), and possible cuts to middle school athletics and a "pay-to-play" plan for athletes in high school sports.
Some of those options were discussed Monday night, but no other decisions were made.