Latham hangs on

Board will decide school's fate at February 5 meeting

The little school that opened in 1853 as a log cabin has been given a reprieve. 

The South Lane School Board agreed not to make a decision on the fate of Latham Elementary School until its February meeting after more than a dozen parents crammed into the district office to plead with the board not to close the doors on Latham. 

Conversations surrounding the possible closure of Latham began last month after board member Jerry Settelmeyer suggested the school’s failing infrastructure and low enrollment would eventually lead to its closure and urged the board to make the decision sooner rather than later. 

“A piece of paper we saw a month ago showed $180,000 difference next year,” he said Monday night. “That’s two of our cut days. How does that effect our other kids?”

During the last school board meeting of 2017, Superintendent Krista Parent presented the possible financial savings of closing Latham at the board’s request. A run-down of basic costs currently being accrued by the school showed a possible savings of $187,397 in staffing costs as well as $46,429 in electricity and utilities. An estimated $200,000 yearly savings for the school district that faced at least four cut days from the school calendar when the 2017 state legislative session began. 

Both parents and teachers and combinations of both spoke before the board on the assets Latham affords its students. Ashley Rigel apologized in advance for leaving immediately following her comments to the board—it was her son’s 8th birthday. 

“He told me to go save his school,” she said, noting that Latham was her family’s best, last option. “We didn’t want our child in South Lane School District but we love Cottage Grove. We looked at ACE, we looked at private schools and charter schools. Latham is our best option and if it closes, we are looking at home schooling. I would have to quit my career, I still have student loans to pay, to teach my child,” she said. 

More than a dozen people spoke up, at one point, commenting from the audience, hailing Latham as a family environment affording students the chance to learn in smaller classes. The school currently has 94 students enrolled, 33 of which do not live in the school’s attendance area. A survey sent out by the school district to Latham parents showed that 66 current students intended to return to Latham next year but Parent informed the board that even if the school kept its current enrollment, the addition of five to 10 students might not make the school financially feasible. 

“This is an extremely difficult decision,” Settelmeyer said. “I love small schools…children come first. We have to look at how much it costs to educate a student. Is it fair to other kids in our other schools and the staff in those schools who are trying to do those jobs?” 

The board asked for more information, citing a desire to wait at least a year, garnering confusion from parents who hoped to work to increase enrollment at the school—a possible solution presented by several board members. 

However, district maintenance manager Matt Allen noted that the school is on track for some “big ticket” repairs and is showing its age. “It’s not the labor, it’s the equipment and materials,” he said after Latham parents suggested Latham fathers could help with repairs. 

“I think we need to make a decision about X day this decision is made,” Settelmeyer insisted. “I am comfortable saying it is not tonight but it needs to be soon.”

The board agreed to table the discussion until its February 5 meeting, asking for a per-pupil cost and a run-down of necessary repairs. 

If the board does not vote to close Latham on February 5, it will not discuss the closure again until the 2018-2019 school year barring any structural failure or other pressing matter at the facility. 

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