The halls of Galien Elementary won’t be crowded next year, but they’ll still be open. Despite a large deficit and low enrollment, the Galien Township School Board voted 5 to 2 Monday night against a measure that would have closed the school.
The decision comes after the district nearly closed in December. At the time, Galien owed the state about $544,000 because of a miscount of the student population.
They’ve been paying that deficit off month-by-month, but still owe a large portion.
While the board rejected a proposal to close the district Monday, it did approve one that will close the 7th and 8th grade classes.
Galien will now have to enter into a cooperative agreement for those students to attend school in Buchanan.
“This is the right decision for the younger kids,” said parent DeeAnne Lashua. “I agree the middle school kids do need to go on to a school where there's more opportunities and it's bigger. But at this young age, [younger kids] need a solid educational foundation.”
But one of the two board members who voted for closing Galien says because of the budget problems, the educational environment isn’t as solid.
“At this point, we don’t necessarily have a rainy day fund,” said board member Donna Lausch. “So if something happens, a good example is the boiler just went down. If something like that were to happen next year, where are we going to find the money to fix it?”
The district is selling off supplies and buses it doesn’t need because of low enrollment to help pay back the state.
But Lausch worries Galien won’t have enough money to make it through the entire 2012-2013 academic year and the board will be faced with the same decisions next year.
“I don't think it will be able to be saved for much longer, I think it's inevitable that it's going to have to close,” she said.
And that’s the big question in Galien – will the board’s decision Monday night be one that saves the school or one that just postpones its end?
“If [my daughter] has one more year of this really good, small, one-on-one attention, then it’s one more year that she’s getting a good start and where she builds from there is where she’s going to go,” said Lashua.
The board hasn’t finalized the budget or personnel cuts, but they’re building the budget around an expected enrollment of 45 students, which is low.
Other districts with even lower enrollments have made it happen.
“I talked from a superintendent from the UP today who called me and she operated her district this year with 15 kids,” said Galien Township Schools Superintendent Tim Allard. “There are small, small districts. What it takes is students. Our expenses, 85 percent of them are in our people. So where we continue to make cuts is in personnel.”