Members of the South Bend School Board voted to close two elementary schools at their meeting on Feb. 22. The decision comes roughly a month after school corporation officials first suggested closing the schools.
The school corporation recommended in January that the school board close Hay and Tarkington Elementaries, which both utilize a low percentage of their building space. That way, school officials said, they could stop paying to operate “half-empty buildings” and instead spend the money on teachers and students.
Several parents, teachers and community members submitted comments to the meeting opposing the school closures. Many said they felt the decision had been made too quickly, and that closing schools would be harmful to students, especially during the pandemic.
Some board members felt the same way – Oletha Jones, whose district covers Hay Elementary, said the pandemic compromised school officials’ ability to provide transparency around closing the schools.
“I believe that the vast majority of the citizens in our community are asking, ‘Why now?’” Jones said.
Other members said the board has a responsibility to make the district financially stable. Board member Ruth Warren said closing schools was part of the school district’s plan when voters passed its $220 million referendum last summer.
“We’ve made promises to the community, and in order to keep those promises, we need to find $3 million a year," Warren said. "We won’t be able to sustain that if we don’t close schools.”
The board ultimately voted to close both Hay and Tarkington at the end of the school year. At the end of the meeting, Board Vice-President Leslie Wesley urged Superintendent Todd Cummings to “stay in communication with the community” and to make the transition “as smooth as possible” for staff and students.
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