District officials tell Holley, Crawfordsville residents that rural schools unlikely to close

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

School District 55 officials went to Holley and Crawfordsville last week to assure those communities that there are no plans to close the schools and talk about when schools might be closed in the future.

“No one is recommending closing any schools at this time,” Supt. Larry Horton said at a Holley meeting, held on Oct. 25. Two years ago, with the district’s financial situation, “we were running out of options.”

The district formed a committee two years ago to decide what to do with District 55’s two rural schools, Holley and Crawfordsville.

The committee was asked to figure out “where we are and where we’re headed in the future,” Horton said. The committee has provided options the district can use to decide what happens if times get tight again.

“There’s not one board member sitting in these chairs that wants to close either of these schools,” Horton said, referring to the majority of the board, which attended meetings at Holley and Crawfordsville.

The district had a plan to close either school if it dropped below 60 students or to close the smallest school if combined enrollment dropped below 150.

Holley and Crawfordsville both cost more to operate than the district average for elementary schools. The calculations are based on the average cost of teachers across the district rather than the specific teachers at the schools.

The district did not anticipate growth in either school, Horton said, but the district’s projections were wrong. Enrollment at both schools is up along with a local “building boom.”

The district has held off selling Pleasant Valley as a result, Horton said. Given that, Horton thought now is a good time to talk about school closures and what would trigger it.

Without the real possibility, “emotion is put aside as much as possible,” Horton said.

Holley and Crawfordsville parents and staff argued against closing either school two years ago when Horton explored the idea through local meetings. Both communities raised several objections to closing the schools, including the strong community identity linked to their schools and a desire to keep their children in their schools.

Horton outlined four options developed by the facilities committee for Holley and Crawfordsville. The board has not acted on the four options.

The four options include making one of the schools a “magnet” school, making one of the schools a “charter” school, closing Holley and closing Crawfordsville.

A magnet school is a specialized school that emphasizes specific subject matter. In other areas, magnet schools specialize in Spanish immersion, for example.

A magnet school could specialize in surfing, although Horton joked that he didn’t think that would draw many students. The district would seek input from the public about the emphasis before opening a magnet school.

A charter school is a public school created and operated by an independent nonprofit or the district under a special contract. Charter schools operate under different regulations, such as a requirement that only 50 percent of their teachers must be certified. Non-certified teachers must still register with the Teachers Standards and Practices Commission.

Sand Ridge Charter School Administrator Jay Jackson said they will have to have a bachelor’s degree beginning next year.

Charter schools receive 80 percent of the state school funding for each student it enrolls. The school’s home district receives 20 percent of that funding if it is the student’s home district. If the student is from another district, the two district’s split the 20 percent.

Charter schools offer parents another choice, Jackson said at the meetings. It isn’t for everyone, but it does provide another option for families.