Declining enrollments and stressed budgets may mean the closure of either Hickman Mills or Ruskin High School next year. Having met since October, the Boundary Committee met again December 10th to develop a recommendation to the school board on an ideal structure for next school year and for years to come. Boundary Committee Chairman Scott Jennings said the group needed to consider a plan that will save the district money. "We need to look at a model that perhaps shutters one high school, combines grades 10,11, and 12; and consolidates middle schools into grades 8 and 9 in one building and 6 and 7 in another building." Jennings said. Since 2000, the district has lost 906 students, primarily at the secondary level. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education projects Hickman Mills' student population will continue to wane, losing 300 more students over the next couple of years. During the same ten years that student population has dropped, funding increased by $18 million and staff increased by 210 certified and non-certified employees: 149 at the high school level and 61 in middle schools. One reason for staffing increases is that new programs--often funded by additional sources of revenue--have been added, but the committee intends to further investigate past staffing changes in January. During a recent audit of the district's financials, the auditor pointed out the need to increase reserves by continuing to cut costs, particularly in salaries and employee benefits, which cost the district an average of $55,000 annually per employee. "We need to start putting numbers to potential savings to see how we can save money," Jennings said. "We may find consolidating some buildings to be fiscally prudent." Currently there are roughly 250 more students at Hickman Mills High School than at Ruskin High School while the middle schools have "fairly equal" student bodies. At the high school level, there are 20 instances of teachers teaching the same classes while the middle schools duplicate 12 teaching positions. Combining classrooms would raise class sizes but according to Chief Administrative Officer of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Beverly Phillips "many classes are 10 to 12 students below maximum federal standards." The group will review additional data and continue to develop a recommendation Wednesday, January 6th at 6 pm in the Administration Board Room located at 9000 Old Santa Fe Road. A public Town Hall will be held January 12 at 7 pm at the Baptiste Educational Center located at 5401 East 103rd Street. A final recommendation is planned to be taken before the full board for consideration on January 23rd. Decisions should be final before teacher contracts go out in late March or early April. All meetings are open to the public. Committee members include Jennings, board members Debbie Aiman and Teresa Edens, Superintendent Dr. Marge Williams, Associate Superintendent Mitch Nutterfield, Director of Special Services Susie Fanning and outside expertise as needed.
According to the paper, Hickman Mills High School has had an enrollment loss of 124 since 2007 and Ruskin High has lost 100 in the same period. Currently Ruskin, which was established in 1930 has 810 students enrolled. Hickman Mills, opened in 1972, has 1,067 students enrolled.
A couple of thoughts. First: The closing of schools is a very emotional matter. My own high school has been the subject of closing rumors for at least the past five years as it has become more and more expensive to run. Taxpayers in town have rejected bonds for the school three times. A school contributes to a community's self image and identity. No one wants to close schools. However, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. I assume the committee is doing its due diligence. One thing they should make sure of: that there is not a coming bulge of kids at the primary level, who, when they age into secondary school level will cause overcrowding if schools are closed. Second: This district has long had a rep of having good primary schools and poor secondary schools. Kids are probably leaking out of the system into other school districts, private, parochial and home schools when they reach secondary school age. I would want to know what it is about the secondary level that is driving kids out of the C-1 district. Third: I was surprised at the increase in funding documented in this article. You would think with the loss of retail in the Hickman Mills district base (home of the now flat Bannister Mall, for example), there would be less money. Money is coming from somewhere. I wouldn't count on it continuing if I were the committee or school board.
Note that all the meetings are public and one is explicitly seeking public comment. Folks interested in both their kids' education and the use of their tax money would do well to attend these meetings. I have made bold the details of the meetings given in the article.