The State Board of Education today voted to dissolve the Farragut Community School District after several years of the district having financial difficulties.
Members of the school board and some parents and students spoke to the state board prior to their vote in hopes of holding off the decision for another year.
Blue Ossian is a 10th grader who got emotional in talking about the importance of the school to the communities of Farragut and Hamburg.
“I feel like kids, you know kids we say we don’t like school, we hate getting up early, we hate being bused. When it is threatened, I’ve never seen so many students fight for what the whole school is,” Ossian says.
Ossian says the students from both communities have come together in the small towns because of the school. “It’s a big part of our lives, my class, we’ve been together since I don’t know how long. We are just so close, and having something like this happen. it’s hard to comprehend because we are so small we don’t face something like this every day,” Ossian says.
Farragut School Board President, Jennifer Varellas, told the board they have been working to try and meet the plans of the Department of Education for fixing the problems and hoped to keep the district open to do so.
“This is going to be our true year to show you where were are financially. Right now we are 10 percent down from spending last year. We would just like that opportunity to go ahead and prove to you,” Varellas says.
Varellas says they believe they have done the things needed to continuing providing a good education, while cutting the budget to catch up with the deficit. “You know if we come out negative this year then we absolutely deserve to be dissolved,” Varellas says. “Let that be our decision though, is what my recommendation would be.” District Superintendent, Tom Heinrichs, also told the board they are working toward improving the financial situation. “What we are asking you folks to consider is to back off from the nuclear option. Allow this year to play out — which we understood was to be the accreditation year — with the technical assistance of the Department of Ed,” Heinrichs says.
Department of Education deputy director Jeff Burger told the board he understands the importance of small schools and the impact the closing might have. “I will say it’s not a conversation about pro or anti small school. The department has always stood for expecting a certain quality of programming with students, and if that program is viable locally, we aren’t going to interfere with that process,” Berger says. But he says the district has failed to meet standards set that include ADA requirements for buildings, having accredited teachers, and keeping the budget from going into the red.
“This conversation is about whether or not as a state we are holding some sort of expectation for what we expect schools to do or not do,” according to Berger. He says this issue has been going on for the past five years, and the district has $93,000 deficit this year. Berger says add in declining enrollment, and he doesn’t see things changing if the school district stays in operation.
“I’m projecting a sixth year of negative. I can’t see how to make adjustments in this scenario without impacting the way the minimum program is structured,” Berger says. “And if we are interested in kids — we need to talk about what the right adjustment is. If we are going to take this action, taking it in June does not give anyone time to plan forward and make a good transition plan.”
The State Board of Education voted unanimously to shut the district down after this year. The board also voted to turn over financial operation of the district to the Greenfield Area Education Agency. Students will finish out the school year in the district and the Department of Education will redraw the district’s borders. Students in the district will then have time to decide where they wish to go to school next year.