School board to decide Latham Elementary's fate

The South Lane School board held its monthly meeting on Monday and night and invited the elephant into the room: Would it close Latham Elementary School? 

The board agreed that more information was needed before it made its decision but leaned heavily on discussion of the building’s failing infrastructure, smaller class sizes and the coming of the new Harrison Elementary School next fall as well as a possible savings of over $200,000 a year if the school closed its doors.

“I believe at some point, Latham won’t continue to operate,” board member Jerry Settelmeyer said. “In some respects, you might say it’s a mercy to say it’s over,” he said, noting the mounting maintenance issues and his belief that the conversation on what to do with the school should have come a year ago. 

Latham currently has 94 students enrolled in classes. That number is down from 111 from the same time last year. Whether that trend will continue is unknown but Superintendent Krista Parent said elementary numbers across the board are down and there was discussion that the neighborhood that feeds Latham’s student body numbers is aging out. 

If Latham were to be closed, the district would save $187,397 in staffing costs. That includes the entire $84,463 principal salary and pieces of other costs that include officer manager time (an approximate $18,373 savings), a handful of the nine food service hours ($14,085 in savings) and $70,000 of the $401,234 spent yearly on teachers.

“Some of those six teachers at Latham would follow the kids. Wherever the kids went, the teachers would follow,” Parent said in explaining the $70,000 savings rather than the entire $401,234. 

A total of $46,429.87 could be saved in electricity, utilizes, permits and upkeep if Latham closed and saved the district $2,900 in garbage removal, $7,662 in electricity and a little over $2,000 in custodial supplies. 

Financial savings aside, the board discussed the other benefits Latham provided students, including a small school option. Board member Taylor Wilhour, who has children in the school, said it was a viable concern for parents and fellow member Tammy Hodgkins noted that if the district closed Latham, it may not be able to provide an alternative for parents seeking out a smaller school. 

“Social media, word around town is, ‘Oh, Harrison’s opening, Latham’s closed.’” Andrea Griffith sat through the two and a half hour board meeting with an infant to get more information about her second-grader’s school. “I want him to stay there, it’s a great school. We are a community. It’s small, we feel like a little family over there. It’s hard not to get emotional, I don’t want him getting lost in the shuffle,” she said. “I feel like this will be a conversation year after year now until it’s closed.”

Bullying and behavior has been an issue at the school, which sits on 10.42 acres and was considered for closure once before against Delight Valley. Academic performance, however, remains on the higher end of the district with 25 to 30 percent of third to fifth graders meeting standards on level three in math and English. 

The construction of the new Harrison Elementary School has raised concerns over the closure of Latham. According to the school district, many Latham students opt into the school and do not live in the attendance area. Harrison, however, is also an option for students and is expected to open in the fall of 2018. 

The board instructed Parent to attempt to assess how many Latham parents intend to send their children to Harrison. The board will combine the information with a guesstimate of the incoming kindergarten class, a scaled down budget for Latham and public comment. 

“It should be made clear,” Settelmeyer said. “That it doesn’t mean if every parent says they’re keeping their student at Latham, the school will stay open.” He went on to say that the decision to close the school would be left to the school board. 

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