Lawrence School to close

After two rounds of voting, Lawrence Elementary School in the Frontier School District will be closed starting in the 2014-15 school year.

A crowd of 300 and 400 people showed up to the board of education’s regular meeting Monday night, all to argue their cases between the options of closing one of the district’s three elementary schools or trying to find another way to keep the eastern Washington County district afloat.

Originally, the board made a motion to close Lawrence, but the motion was defeated 3-2 with vice president Ricky Kroll, Jr. and board members Gale Depuy and Kurt Bohlen voting against.

The board called for a re-vote after an outcry from the crowd in which Kroll changed his vote to approve the closing of the 40-student Lawrence Elementary in the Dart community.

In the final vote, board president Justin Hoff, Kroll and board member Todd Collins voted yes, while Depuy and Bohlen kept their no votes.

“No matter what, this will be a domino effect, and we’ll be back here in a year,” Kroll said. “We cannot save the district just by doing this, we still need that levy money.”

Bohlen stood firm in his decision, but also argued that regardless of his ties to Lawrence, his decision came because he believed there had to be another option besides closing any school.

“I will not let my community make my decision for me, but I will also never vote to close a school, and I will never tell an eight-year-old they have to ride a bus for two hours,” Bohlen said.

Unofficially dubbed the “Concerned Citizens of New Matamoras,” a t-shirt adorned group came with the full force of five spokespeople, including retired teacher John Miller, mayor of New Matamoras John Schmidt and several parents.

The group presented a petition to keep New Matamoras Elementary open with 662 signatures.

“Vote your conscious, not your community,” Miller said.

The board, comprised of five members, included a mixture of people from all three elementary school communities. For the first vote, the three no votes came from members living in the Dart community or with past ties to it.

“We do this with regret toward the Dart community, but the choice was obvious,” Schmidt said.

Before the board heard public comments, Superintendent Bruce Kidder presented a presentation about the declining enrollment in the district, which in 1999 was at 1,000 students and in 2014 is just above 700. The decline has severely affected the district’s finances, not including the numerous defeated levies.

“I don’t believe there is anywhere else to go, and there is no where to go that won’t hurt kids,” Kidder said.

Closing Lawrence will save the district about $120,000 annually, and the board urged the community to realize that despite the savings, they still needed a levy to be passed in November.

Because of the savings, a new levy would only need to amount to about four or five-mils, rather than the previous 9.2-mil levy that failed in November.

Passing a five-mil levy in the Frontier district would generate $325,000 annually, and based on the average values of taxpayers’ homes, would cost about 23 to 50 cents per day per homeonwer.

“You represent a good area with a lot of turmoil right now, and all communities want desperately to keep their schools,” Miller said. “We want to recognize that Mr. Kroll has made a heart-wrenching decision.

The New Matamoras community, along with the majority of the crowd, agreed that they would fight for the reduced levy when the time came.

“They did what we asked of them, now we have to do what they’re asking of us,” Miller said.

Though the February meeting stipulated that the closing of a school meant that the district would reconfigure to make one school kindergarten through third grade and the other fourth the sixth grade, the community will have the option to convince the board to keep the change or alter it with a motion.

The board said if the levy does not pass in November, the by-grade system is inevitable because of the money it will save.

The public crowd vocalized a long list of concerns about keeping Lawrence open, focused on the building’s stability, location and safety in regards to flooding and contamination. Many were concerned that closing a school would mean that parents would take their children elsewhere, furthering the enrollment problem.

“If you think Switzerland of Ohio is better than me, than good luck,” Kidder said.