The Knightsen Elementary School District Board voted 4-1 last week to shut down the school in an effort to help save the financially troubled district from bankruptcy. Board President Frank Dell voted against the closure.
“Frank (Dell) wasn’t quite ready to give up yet, but we knew it was time,” said Knightsen Superintendent Vickey Rinehart. “Everyone is sad. It is a very emotional time … it’s kind of like putting your child up for adoption.”
The closure of Old River will save the school district $62,000 a year. Additionally, the board has also voted to slice an extra $92,000 from the budget, agreeing to cut the music program and a library aide, as well as reduce school counseling hours and janitorial supplies. All of which, said Rinehart, will bring the district closer to balancing its approximately $4 million annual budget for the 2010-11 school year. Previous talk of a tentative merger between the Brentwood School District or possibly the Byron Union School District have stalled, as both neighboring districts are now dealing with their own financial woes due to recent cuts by the state.
“The state budget cuts sunk us from the beginning,” said Rinehart. “We lost $500,000 in funding this year out of our budget … I’m confident we are going to save ourselves, but it is going to be a very long, hard road.”
The nearly 150 students from Old River will remain in place for the remainder of the year, but will return to Knightsen Elementary at the beginning of the school session in July.
“The positives are that the kids and the brothers and sisters will all be back together again,” said Rinehart. “We have plenty of empty classrooms, so it’s just a matter of moving everyone over. It’s certainly a more unifying move than a divisive one.”
Old River’s Principal Ray Witte and the teaching staff will move to Knightsen Elementary as well. The current plan is for Witte to share a co-principal position with Knightsen Principal Theresa Estrada until Rinehart officially retires later this year, at which time Estrada will take over as superintendent.
“I am phasing out as superintendent and my plan is to have Mrs. Estrada in place (as superintendent) no later than December, 2010 – sooner if I can,” said Rinehart. “She’s very, very qualified and I know she’ll do a great job.”
Old River School has been fiscally challenged since it opened in 2008. State education cuts and a loss of funding forced the district to take out a $3 million loan to finish construction of the school. Currently the district pays $265,000 per year toward the debt, and, according to Rinehart, has two years of the remaining 17 years of payments currently in reserve. Where the money will come from after that, however, is unknown.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” said Rinehart. “Right now, it’s one day at a time.”
The closure of the school is emotionally charged for the entire Knightsen community. When times became difficult, the community and parents club collected nearly $70,000 through barbecues, pancake breakfasts and other fundraising events.
“Everyone worked so hard; they did such an amazing job,” said Rinehart. “But I don’t think people really understood how much was involved in fundraising. To do that all again would just have been too much.”
Rochelle Hansen, a parent at Old River, agreed that the closure of the school is difficult: “I think most of us are sad to see the school close, but we saw it coming. Now everyone involved needs to make this a positive transition for the children.”