Chauncey Elementary Closing at End of School Year
After months of organizing and advocacy efforts to save their school, friends and parents of Chauncey Elementary School finally learned the fate of their school Thursday night: Chauncey Elementary will be closed at the end of the current school year.
The Athens School Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday to approve Superintendent Carl Martin’s proposal to close Chauncey Elementary and relocate the students to The Plains Elementary School in an effort to balance the school district’s budget. The closing of Chauncey Elementary is estimated to save the district $1 million.
While the decision was not one that supporters of the school had hoped for, Autumn Bycofski, who has been an outspoken advocate for the Save Chauncey Elementary group, said she was not surprised by the board’s decision.
“I went to the February 15 meeting … and they discussed no other new options so it kind of seemed like we were still on the chopping block,” Bycofski said.
“I think that closing Chauncey was on the agenda early on. I think that it was just an easy money saving fix and I think [the board] kind of got tunnel vision and wasn’t able at that point to look at other options to find another way,” she said.
School Board President Chris Gerig assured those present that he attempted to approach Martin’s proposal as well as recommendations made from concerned members of the community with as open a mind as possible. But at the end of the day, Gerig determined that he could not find a better solution to the district’s financial woes.
“We are facing a $2 million shortfall in our annual budget due to changes in our funding,” he said. “While I do not claim to be an education professional, I do know how to read a balance sheet … and what we have right now on our five year budget sheet is a disaster.”
The budget projection prepared by the board shows the district going from an $8 million operating surplus to a $12 million deficit over the next five years.
“For these reasons I’m personally satisfied that closing Chauncey Elementary is the best step for going forward with the district,” Gerig said.
Prior to the vote, Bycofski addressed the school board and said she would have liked to see more transparency in the decision making process, saying it was suspicious that Martin presented the board with only the option of closing Chauncey rather than a list of possible options for balancing the budget.
Martin said he considered many areas to come up with the cuts, and it was only after much study that he looked at closing Chauncey. He said that move was able to save the district money without making cuts to academic programming.
“If I didn’t think that this was the right thing to do at this point in time I would not have recommended it,” he said.
Gerig ended the discussion on the proposal by saying he has been impressed with the community support shown throughout the debate, expressing sympathy among other board members for the concerns of the Chauncey community.
He also warned that more cuts are to be expected in the coming months.
“As we look to make these additional cuts, they are going to be many and they are going to be painful,” he said. “I’m confident that all of the parties here will work together to achieve the savings that are necessary to allow us to maintain the first-class education we have presently.”