District to consider reconfiguration, school closures

By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers

TAYLOR – Incoming Taylor School District Supt. Ben Williams last month attended his first meeting of the district’s board of education, a session which included discussion of a possible reconfiguration over the next two years that could include the closure of Kennedy High School.

No action was taken by the panel although Williams said the conversation will likely remain at the forefront in the months ahead.

“They shared a summary report of (a proposed) reconfiguration,” Williams said. “Right now they seem to be at a fact-finding phase.”

During the board of education’s March 21 meeting, a presentation was made on behalf of a reconfiguration task force, a panel made up of school administrators, teachers, city council members and parents.

The task force had clarified the financial and enrollment numbers for board members before making its recommendations.

The city’s population has been on the decline for nearly 20 years, resulting in declining school enrollment. In the last six years alone student counts have dropped from 8,236 to 6,950: Based on a state foundation allowance of $7,873 per student, the decline represents a loss of more than $10 million in school funding.

Further, the task force reported that the district’s buildings were at times under-used: Notably, Truman High School’s current 932 students represent less than 50 percent of the building’s capacity. The Sixth Grade Academy’s 471 students are 57 percent of the facility’s capacity, and West Middle School’s 532 students account for 60 percent of its capacity.

“The committee was very thorough,” Williams said. “They represent a cross-section of the community and have given this a lot of careful thought.”

Williams said that when districts are faced with the combination of declining enrollment and reduced funding, there are few available options. Strategies to “right size” the district included a multi-phased approach.

A proposed first phase, to take place during the 2016-17 school year, would streamline the district through schedule adjustments, boundary realignments and moving sixth-graders to a middle school.

A proposed second phase – to begin during the 2017-18 academic year – would include merging Kennedy High School students into the current Truman High School building, to be renamed Taylor High School.

Phase three, targeted for 2018-19, would include the closure of an unspecified elementary building.

Williams, who will begin service as the district’s top administrator on June 1, said the board had asked for additional information before continuing the conversation.

“I’m interested in learning more,” Williams said. “It will clearly be a central theme. It’s a workable plan, but – as with all plans – the devil is in the details as well as the message.”

(James Mitchell can be reached at james.a.mitchell37@gmail.com.)

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