Latham’s fate has been sealed: the school that first opened in 1853 will close its doors in June for the final time.
After months, and years, of speculation about whether or not the school should stay open, the South Lane School District school board made the closing of the school official on Monday night with a 5-2 vote to close the school. Board members Taylor Wilhour and Merlene Martin cast the opposing votes.
“It’s been a very difficult decision for us as a schoolboard. It’s not easy for us to make this decision but it’s what we feel is necessary for our school district,” said board member Sherry Duerst-Higgins who was filling in as the role of board chair after Alan Baas was absent due to a recent medical procedure.
The decision did not come as a surprise based on the board’s previous conversations regarding the school district’s “Latham School Report.” The report, which was released in December, went over the logistics of the two possible board decisions: the school closing or the school remaining open for at least five more years.
If the school were to stay open, the report detailed that it would cost an estimated $775,000 to repair and upgrade the building. While the board has set aside $353,000 for maintenance for Latham, the rest of the funding would have had to come out of the district’s deferred maintenance budget.
The report noted 19 different upgrades that Latham would need ranging from upgrades in kitchen technology (an estimated $26,500) all the way up to replacing the majority of the roofing (an estimated $95,000). With Monday’s decision, those funds will now go to various deferred maintenance projects across the district.
The official vote, that was made as a motion by board member Jerry Settelmeyer, took two attempts after Baas was initially not contacted via phone for the first vote. When the second vote rolled around, the outcome remained the same.
“I was on the side of the families and students and I think that Latham plays a really, really important part of the school district and we’ve now closed a small school that I think was really, really important,” said Martin on her decision to vote against the closure.
During the meeting, other board members offered various feelings on the closing.
“My son was a third grader when we closed Blue Mountain [in 1982] and it had very small classes. He went to Blue Mountain it was a community of teachers and the kids and he went in to Harrison and it prepared him so much better, I believe, to go into Lincoln and go into the high school,” said Duerst-Higgins. “So as a parent, I just, I was disappointed but I did a positive on that. So as parents we need to tell them, this is good and what is good about it. Because I think he benefitted from a bigger school and the change. It’s hard to close a school, it’s very difficult to close a school.”
Tammy Hodgkinson recalled a different past school closure.
“I know it’s not a lot of comfort but I was a Bohemia parent when we closed Delight Valley and the kids and parents that joined our school added so much and we just appreciated the addition of that community to our community. It was a positive,” she said.
Now that a decision has been made, the district will present what the logistics of closing the school at February’s board meeting.
“We’ll work with Latham staff and parents to develop a transition plan,” said SLSD Communications Coordinator Garrett Bridgens. “And work with [board member] Jerry [Settelmeyer] and others to develop a plan for celebration of the school. Those are the next steps.”
Duerst-Higgins concluded the discussion about Latham by reading a statement from the district about the vote. Bridgens noted two statements were prepared.
So, we want to thank the school district staff, the Latham staff and the Latham community for working through this process with us. While this decision has not been easy, we appreciate the work and time everyone has put into this process. The feedback and information presented to the board was thorough and allowed for us to have a sufficient discussion to make an informed decision. It is now time to focus on moving forward by honoring Latham School and its rich history, its staff and students who have made Latham the school it is. As we enter into the second-half of the school year, it is our hope that we will take the necessary steps to celebrate and honor Latham as Jerry has talked about. It is also a time to think about the transition for the Latham community. We are asking the district leadership to work with the Latham staff and parents to develop a plan for how staff and students will transition into the next school year. It is important that the Latham community clearly understand their options and what the necessary steps are to make this transition as smooth as possible. The school board would like to see this plan presented at a February board meeting, would that be possible? Again, we appreciate everyone’s efforts in helping the board make a decision.