Monroeville Elementary Closing?

By Megan Trent

June 18, 2010 Updated Jun 2, 2010 at 6:52 PM EDT

MONROEVILLE, Ind. (Indiana's NewsCenter) - Last night the East Allen County Superintendent presented the School Board with five options for redesigning the district. Several schools are slated to close depending on which plan, or combination of plans, the Board decides to adopt.

Two elementary schools, however, were suggested for closure under every single option – New Haven Elementary and Monroeville. For the small town of Monroeville, that could mean the closure of their only school.

With 177 students in kindergarten through sixth grade and seven teachers, most residents would agree that it’s a small school, but it has had big meaning in the community since the elementary opened it's doors in 1978. And some don’t think being small is such a bad thing.

Beth Knefelkamp has twin boys in the fifth grade at Monroeville Elementary and another son who will soon be enrolled there. She says, “Even though they have smaller classes, and they might not be at full capacity, maybe those smaller classes are something we need to look at better anyway because the teachers have more time to work with all the kids, not just the kids who are excelling."

She says her boys’ test scores have improved, not declined like the statistics might indicate. On the day we spoke with Knefelkamp, dozens of children were guided by teachers down the Monroeville sidewalks on their way to the local ice cream parlor for lunch. That, she says, couldn’t happen in very many towns… and it won’t be happening any more if the children have to be bused to other, more distant, schools.

Under some of the proposed plans, new consolidated elementary schools would be built while other elementaries, like Monroeville, would close.

"I don't quite understand why you would want to close a school, build a school, and do all of that when you've got the buildings,” Knefelkamp says. “Let's use the buildings to their capacity and maybe find other things that we can cut."

Another Monroeville parent, Ron Walter, stopped by the school’s office to ask about sixth grade graduation. As we spoke to him about the possibility of closing the elementary, his frustration was the situation was clear.

"I guess we're all getting used to bureaucrats who want things bigger and bigger and think they're making them better, and we just have to deal with that. It's I think an American ethical issue where bureaucrats make decisions for us that affect us personally and economically and then bare no responsibility for it."

Walter also says he would like for the community to pay for and operate the school apart from EACS. He doubts, however, that the district would want another hit to their enrollment numbers.

District administrators say they don’t want to close schools, but at this point it’s a necessity. Revenue is down thanks in part to decreased state funding, enrollment is projected to drop by another 1,000 students by 2019, and most buildings aren’t being fully utilized.

Monroeville Elementary, for example, has the lowest building utilization rate in the district... 42%. That means it's under its enrollment capacity by 58%.

Enrollment is also down. It dropped from 240 students in 2005 to 177 in 2010. Furthermore, only 40% of third graders and 60% of sixth graders passed ISTEP. Within the next seven years it $265,000 worth of renovations would need to be done to keep the facility up and running.

Administrators say redesigning the district will improve student achievement, assure equality, cut costs, and increase the effectiveness of how they use facilities. They don’t think any one plan will be accepted in its entirety, but they hope the options they do have will spark discussion.

If closed under Plan A, the students at Monroeville would attend a new Heritage Elementary School located on the same complex as Heritage High School.

Under Plans B and C, they would attend Hoagland Elementary. The enrollment would be 423 in a K-5 facility under Plans A, B, and C.

If closed under Plan D, they would also attend Hoagland, but the enrollment would be 418 in a K-3 facility.

Lastly, if Plan E is adopted, students would attend Hoagland... And the enrollment would be 508 in a K-6 facility.

No matter where the students go, Knefelkamp’s boys will no longer be able to walk out their front door, across the street, and straight through their school’s front door. "Everything is more community oriented in this place. Monroeville Elementary has always been a staple in this community."

A decision about the fate of Monroeville Elementary School and other schools in the district will likely come this fall. Changes will begin to be implemented during the 2011-2012 school year.

The next meeting of the School Board will be June 15, 2012. For a complete copy of the “Options for Redesign” click on News Links.

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