Latest school closures force leaders everywhere to make tough choices

Buildings are being shut down as district leaders and communities grapple with declining enrollment, aging buildings, the end of ESSER and other fiscal pressures.

“The notion of school closures is difficult to contemplate,” the Nampa School District says on its website. But it’s a notion that’s not only being contemplated but becoming a reality in that medium-sized Idaho school system and many other districts that are grappling with declining enrollment, aging buildings, the end of ESSER and other fiscal pressures.

Nampa has lost 1,900 students over the last decade and that has sucked $5.5 million from its budget since the state reinstituted average daily attendance funding. Nampa’s leaders there are pushing to close a middle school and three elementary schools while relocating several other schools, including one of its high schools.

“The aging infrastructure of our facilities further complicates the fiscal outlook,” Nampa’s leaders added. “Many of our school buildings, having served generations of students, are in need of significant repairs or upgrades.

The proposals have, not surprisingly, distressed many in the community, including Hollis Babb, a teacher at one of the elementary schools that may soon be shuttered. “I’m OK with losing my job, but I’m not OK with these students losing their safe place,” Babb said at a recent school board meeting chronicled by the Idaho Press. “This is their home.”

School closures across the country

Kenosha Unified School District in Wisconsin voted Dec. 12 to close six schools—five elementaries and a middle school. The decision was eight months in the making as administrators and the school board worked to offset a $15M budget deficit looming in the 2024-25 fiscal year. The shortfall was created by a structural deficit, increased health insurance costs, the loss of ESSER funding and potential salary schedule movements.

“This was a long, difficult process that will have a major impact on our community,” Superintendent Jeff Weiss said on the district’s website. “Unfortunately, our district is currently built for 23,000 students,” School Board President Yolanda Adams added, “but is funded for fewer than 19,000, and we cannot continue to operate at that level without negatively impacting the services we provide our students.”

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Spring Branch ISD in Texas is facing a $35 million deficit in the next fiscal year and its leaders have decided to close two elementary buildings and discontinue a charter partnership. That will save about $9 million, with the remainder of the shortfall made up by central office staff reductions, the district says on its website.

“We must ensure that while finding ways to achieve operational efficiencies, we maintain excellent academic and extracurricular experiences that our students need and deserve, and our community expects,” Superintendent Jennifer Blaine affirmed. “We will not let the leaders in Austin take us down. The harder they try to destroy public education, the harder we will work to make sure our students continue to succeed at the very highest levels.”

Akron Public Schools in Ohio is in the process of “right-sizing” due to population changes, and is looking at redrawing boundaries and closing three schools, including an elementary building that’s more than 100 years old, reported.

“We have to achieve a balance,” Superintendent Michael Robinson, who has scheduled a series of community meetings about the closures, said on the district’s website. “For years in our city, while we were busy rebuilding our inventory and consolidating our footprint, population changes created new challenges we must meet. We must address our building capacity in the midst of a diverse yet declining population throughout our city.”

Leaders in several other districts are currently contemplating closing multiple schools:

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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