School Board votes to close schools

Published 9:22 pm Friday, April 8, 2011

The Suffolk School Board voted on Thursday to close Robertson Elementary School, above, and Mount Zion Elementary School, below. The school system had to cut costs after being notified it would receive about $2.3 million less than it requested.

The Suffolk School Board voted 6-1 Thursday to close Mount Zion and Robertson elementary schools next school year to help close a $2.3 million budget deficit.

Board member Phyllis Byrum, who represents the borough where Robertson is located, was the dissenting vote.

The board also decided to keep Florence Bowser Elementary School open and remove 1-percent pay increases for all school employees from the budget.

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The board made the decision after the city manager’s proposed budget reduced the schools’ budget by $900,000 from last year, which was $2.3 million less than what was requested for the coming fiscal year.

The cuts made Thursday account for about $2.1 million, leaving the schools approximately $200,000 more to cut.

Board members chose Robertson to close, although it was not initially proposed for closure this year, because it has the fewest students in the district, with 190, and has the highest utility bill per square foot out of all the schools.

Mount Zion and Robertson combined for the highest total saved in the closing of two of the three schools. The closure of Florence Bowser Elementary School was discussed, but the board decided it needed to remain open to account for the growth in North Suffolk.

Most of the jobs at the two schools will be transferred to other schools, Suffolk Public Schools spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw said.

Superintendent Deran Whitney said closing the two schools was a way for the board to cut spending while not compromising the quality of the programs and education in Suffolk.

“If you think that a school’s not a building, we keep the quality education but teach it in a different building,” board member Linda Bouchard said.

Whitney told the board Mount Zion has not met adequate yearly progress, a federal standard, in two years. It currently is in the federally-mandated school choice sanction, meaning Mount Zion parents can choose to send their children to another school in the district that has met the standards.

Robertson did not meet the standards last year, and it would also be in school choice if it does not meet standards this year.

Bouchard said the board should give Robertson parents and staff time to voice their opinions about the closure.

“Anytime you talk about a school closing you have parents saying, ‘Don’t close our school,’” board member Diane Foster said. “You still have to close the school.”

Bradshaw said the students at Mount Zion would be relocated to Elephant’s Fork Elementary School, while those at Robertson would be shifted to several other schools.

The board did not discuss in detail how it would account for the additional $200,000 gap in the budget.