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SJSD holding off on high school closure, renovation plan

Six options the board had been receiving feedback on ranged in cost from $120-190 million and included options ranging in just making renovations to the three current high schools to closing either one, two or all three and building new.

Posted: Jan 14, 2020 5:07 PM
Updated: Jan 15, 2020 8:17 AM

(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) In a surprise move on Tuesday, the Board of Education at the St. Joseph School District announced that they will hold off on plans to either renovate its three current high schools or build either one or two new facilities.

During a previously unscheduled special board meeting that had just been publicly posted on Monday to abide by Missouri Sunshine Law, board president Seth Wright said they would not put a tax increase question on the ballot in April.

"We do not feel that we are ready to put forward a plan," Wright read from a prepared statement approved by the board. "More time is needed to answer the questions that remain regarding the most effective and most efficient configuration of our district."

Board members had spent that last several months holding focus groups, open houses and soliciting surveys. There had been every indication that the board was leaning toward the one or two new high school option. of the six plans that were being reviewed. However Wright said there was a mood that the public wasn't behind the effort yet.

"I think a large part of the community was saying that we didn't need any change," Wright said. "I think if you look at any metric of the school district, whether it be academically, extra-curricularly, test scores, teacher retention, however you look at it, status quo isn't working."

The options ranged from only making renovations to Lafayette, Central and Benton High Schools, to closing one, two or even all three and building new.

At its last meeting, board members stressed that they did not want any plan exceeding $160 million, which would have cost the owner of a $100,000 home an extra $120 per year in property taxes.  The vote would have been in April, giving the district only 2 1/2 months to make their case to voters on why schools with decades of history that mean so much to their commnities should be closed in the name of progress. Wright said that campaigns in the past that worked for the district had some key characteristics that this one lacks to this point.

"One of the things of why we've been successful in passing initiatives in the past is we've had a clear plan, a clear vision and we've laid it out to the public and communicated it clearly. I don't think we're at the point where we can do that now," Wright said.

In the meantime, adminstrators will be charged with pushing forward with what they have.

"We just see some of the inequities that take place within our schools with the size differentials that we have between our high schools, with the possible opportunities that our students have at some of the high schools," said SJSD superintendent Doug Van Zyl. "The financial burden is also there there because it does cost us more to operate three high schools than it would to run two or run one."

Board members did not give any timetable as to when they will discuss the plans more.

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