In my last column ("Tough Cuts," March 2011), I mentioned that my local school district was experiencing significant budget cuts. School closings had saved nearly $2 million, but the district needed to "find" another $10 million in reductions.
What's the old saying? When it rains, it pours…
In early May, district operations and maintenance personnel discovered a broken heating and cooling system at one of the elementary schools in the district. Early estimates to replace 3,100 feet of piping: $200,000.
With no money budgeted to fix the problem, administrators were forced to decide quickly whether to fund the costly repairs or close the 50-year-old school and permanently move the students from that school to another elementary school beginning in the fall. Time was not on the district's side.
The board and administrators hosted a meeting for parents, students and interested community members. The issue: moving all of the school's students to a nearby elementary, which was already at 80 percent capacity. Hundreds of people showed up to the special board meeting to lend their voices to the dilemma, and many participated in a "peaceful walk" from the school to the meeting site, complete with printed signs that said "Do What's Right. Fix the Pipes!"
One parent started a Facebook group page to raise awareness and help develop a unified response to request the board vote in favor of spending the necessary funds to fix the system and "save" the school.
In the end, the district decided to use money from the capital budget to replace the pipes, and the school will stay open for at least another year.
If it hadn't though, I have to wonder how the students and staff would have been affected by a near doubling of their population. Larger class sizes, strained teachers, shared classes, tapped-out facilities? The district found the money this time and made the decision to keep the school open, but what about the next big-ticket maintenance issue?
In addition, as in so many other parts of the country that have been affected by school closings, the neighborhood would have lost a small, beloved institution right in the middle of their neighborhood.
Lustig is executive editor of AS&U.