A much calmer meeting regarding the possible closure of Reelsville Elementary occurred Wednesday at Central Elementary. The primary reason for the meeting was to answer questions for parents with fifth-graders who would be affected by the possible closing.
As with previous meetings, Superintendent Bruce Bernhardt began by giving an explanation of why closing Reelsville Elementary is one of the only options the corporation currently has.
"We are losing money much faster than revenues are coming in," Bernhardt said. "Everything we're looking at is based on finances."
The school corporation has been consistently losing students each year -- 66 this year. Not only does the decline in students cause a loss in funding, state funding has also been considerably cut.
"It's a general issue that people are losing students," he said. "We're not living within the budget by any means."
Due to space limitations it is not possible to transfer all the students from Reelsville Elementary and house them in just one building, Central Elementary. The proposed plan would move all sixth-graders in the district into the South Putnam High School building.
"Depending on what teachers were to be reduced, you've got an equal amount of what we're spending," he said. "We've had a lot of ideas on what to do to save some money. They don't even come close to the savings needed."
Moving younger students into the high school is one of the biggest concerns parents have regarding the proposal. Many fear for their child's safety when surrounded by much older and larger students. Bernhardt said the highest safety precautions would be in effect at all times.
"The principals and I have identified an area that is really self-contained," Bernhardt explained. "We feel like we can provide a safe environment that's segregated for students."
The proposed area for the students would be just beyond the cafeteria to the east, in South Putnam High School. Having self-contained classes would also mean that students would not have to interact with high school or junior high students in the hallways.
"We're trying to offer the best solid education we can," Bernhardt said. "It wouldn't be any different academically, all of the instruction and lessons would be identical."
As many parents voice concerns on the transition, most at the Central Elementary meeting talked about allowing the children more opportunities with this move.
"The kids are really good, that should not be a major concern," said parent and Fillmore Elementary teacher Jill McCammack on the intermixing with high school students.
Many parents view the move not only as an opportunity for their children to do some growing up, but also having opportunities to participate in music, drama and art programs.
"I think we're selling our high school students short by saying they're going to come in and prey on little kids," said parent Anthony Heavin. "We've got great character kids over there."
No matter how good the opportunities may seem, parents are still concerned their children will be stuck in a classroom all day, with no windows.
"Let them have the good stuff," said one parent who asked to not be identified. "Give them those advantages, and not have them be stuck in a room all day."
The board has not yet figured out the specifics should the proposal be voted on and approved. However, it is known that the sixth-graders would be in the high school and a few teachers would have to be cut, but learning and security would remain the highest priority, board members said.
"Some things need to be addressed before you make a decision to make an informed decision," McCammack said.
What would be done with the Reelsville Elementary building if the school were to close is still unknown.
Currently, the corporation is spending just shy of $95,000 a year for electricity, heating and other utilities for the building. It is likely the school would be maintained at the bare minimum in terms of heating and cooling.
"The building is something the board would have to look at and decide what to do and what is economically feasible," said Bernhardt.
Even though a decision has not been agreed upon yet, the board is running out of options.
"If we wait and go broke, the state will take over and things will be much worse," board president Mike Rissler said. "This is not a first option, it is our last. Sixty-six students is the last nail."
The board has assured the public that no decision has been made. However, it could happen as soon as the next regularly scheduled school board meeting, set for 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 19.