Consolidation question moves to Superior School Board
A special school board meeting on the issue is expected before May, according to District Administrator Amy Starzecki.
SUPERIOR — The Superior School Consolidation Advisory Committee wrapped up its work Thursday, March 23.
Each member was asked to fill out a survey providing their recommendation on a question the school board will now grapple with — whether to close one of the district's six elementary schools for the 2024-2025 school year. District Administrator Amy Starzecki said the board plans to hold a special meeting on the topic of consolidation before May.
Administrators anticipate the Superior School District will face a budget shortfall of $4.1 million in the 2024-2025 school year based on the current state funding formula, which has not provided a per pupil increase in years, and the fact that federal COVID-19 funding will end in the fall of 2024.
A capacity study presented to the school board in February indicated that there are roughly 736 available elementary school seats in the district. A demographic study taken before the pandemic indicated the district would see a gradual decline in students over the next 10 years. When the pandemic hit, the district lost about 200 students.
“We are seeing a significant decline in elementary enrollment,” Starzecki said. “So that is a factor that brought us together today, too. We’d still be having this conversation, I think, if we weren’t facing a $4.1 million deficit because of the capacity study reflecting that we could be more efficient with our elementary buildings.”
Two elementary schools are being considered for closure, Four Corners and Lake Superior. Starzecki said the annual savings of closing one of the schools would amount to roughly $1 million due to reductions in administration, staff positions and utilities costs. Fewer classroom teachers would also be needed, but that number has yet to be determined.
The two elementary schools have the smallest population of students — 148 at Lake Superior, 198 at Four Corners as of September 2022, according to district information. Built in 1985, they are the oldest of the district’s elementary schools. Each is in need of $795,000 in repairs this summer, including berm work, waterproofing and tuckpointing.
“That is an urgent need. That one we can’t kick that can down the road,” Starzecki said, because it’s impacting the schools' foundations.
In addition, Four Corners will need a roughly $500,000 wastewater upgrade in the near future. Closing one of the schools would net a one-time savings of $795,000 for Lake Superior and $1,295,000 for Four Corners for that maintenance work.
Committee members questioned if the other elementary schools had the capacity to serve the displaced students.
“I just wanted to point out that we were at that level a few years ago, and I believe that we can continue to serve students in those buildings with the same level of support that we currently have,” Starzecki said.
Regardless of whether the district closes a school, she said, there will no longer be class sizes under 15 for students in K-3. Class sizes for students in fourth and fifth grade would be between 25-30. That could require options such as multi-age classrooms or cohorts in schools where class sizes are too small.
Even if consolidation takes place, additional cuts will have to be made. An advisory group of administrators, teachers and staff will be pulled together next fall to identify priorities and make a plan, Starzecki said. The bulk of reductions will be made where class sizes are too low, but "all employee groups, all departments will be considered."
The influx of federal COVID-19 relief funding has held annual budget adjustments off for the past three years, Starzecki said, which is what makes the upcoming cuts so severe.
Committee members asked about timelines. A final decision on consolidation would need to be made by November, Starzecki said, in order to start planning staffing changes for the 2024-2025 school year.
The school board expects to begin work in August on restructuring elementary school boundaries, and summer maintenance work is planned for the two rural schools. Both would be affected if the board decides to shutter a school.
Starzecki encouraged members of the public to watch the district website for upcoming meeting dates. Information presented to committee members is available on the district website under the School Consolidation Advisory Committee Updates tab.