Southside SJSD Board Member Disappointed with School Closure Vote

Dennis Snethen said a rushed, bad decision by the school board to pit two Southside schools against each other was a bad way to decide how to close one of them.

Posted: Dec 12, 2017 10:49 PM
Updated: Dec 13, 2017 10:45 AM

(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.)  St. Joseph School District board member Dennis Snethen said on Tuesday he made the right decision when he cast the lone vote against closing two schools.

At a board meeting Monday night the board voted 6-1 to close Humboldt and Lake Contrary elementary schools at the end of this school year.

Speaking to KQ2 news Tuesday afternoon while on the job at the Wesley Youth Center in Southside St. Joseph, the longtime Southsider says his part of town is hurt by the decision to close Lake.

"I didn't want any school closed at this time," Snethen said. "They've been talking about closing Lake and Humboldt for the last 20 years. They're some of the poorest kids and we're always picking on the needy. If they would have said we need to close two schools and they'd explain it, I might have went along with it, but not name the schools until we had more data and get more community input and do our math."

Administrators say the closures of Lake and Humboldt will save the district $2.8 million yearly. Board members are in the process of cutting $8.5 million from their budget for the 2018-19 school year.

While there wasn't much controversy about closing 150-year-old Humboldt, there had been some concern brewing Southside when it became known that board members were considering both Lake and Hyde Elementary to be the second school chosen.

Board members had been leaning toward closing Lake until late last week when board members also started looking at Hyde.

"Originally it was about the buildings and we needed to close older buildings," Snethen said. "Then when (the board) brought Lake up, I'm like, 'Hold on, that's a newer school! ' Then it changed somehow to attendance, flood plain and railroad tracks."

Snethen said when Hyde was then brought up as an alternative for closure, it unfairly pitted the two Southside schools against each other.

"The general feeling is they're upset. They feel like they're being picked on," Snethen said.

Both schools had a large presence of teachers and parents at the school board meeting Monday night.  Many took an opportunity to speak directly to the board before the vote was taken.

"Last night the Lake community and Hyde community were there," Snethen said. "It didn't matter because (the board) already knew how they were going to vote. Don't waste their time. They actually thought with their passion they'd make a difference."

Snethen says the vote has upset a lot of people in the Southside and created even more ill will toward the district. He fears people will remember what happened the next time the district asks for a tax increase.

"I think there's 1,000 new people who will vote no," he said. "There are people that are going to register to vote that have never registered just to vote no. We've created a monster."

The levy vote that failed by a 72-28 percent margin was a large contributor to the cause of board members meeting on Monday to cut the budget.

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