PENNY-WISE, POUND-FOOLISH

Sherry Ferguson – Rural Reading

We’ve all heard the phrase “Penny-wise, pound-foolish”.  What does it mean?  It means to be cautious (wise) with small amounts of money but wasteful (foolish) with larger amounts.  

North Lyon County (NLC) residents please remember the November 2017 failed bond election.  NLC patrons were asked to approve a $29 million bond to build a new 6-12 facility, plus spend another $3 million out of capital outlay funds to build the athletic complex.  The board promised to keep the current elementary facilities in Americus and Reading open.  The location of the new facility, one mile from the Emporia School District boundary, was an attempt to stop seventy-nine NLC students (K-12) from attending Emporia Schools.     

Each September the local school board and state entities receive the official student headcount used in funding calculations.  The NLC Board must have considered these numbers in the district finances in order to make this promise of keeping the two elementary schools open.  The new school would have also taken a period of time to design and build.  The September 2017 headcounts in NLC elementary schools were approximately forty-eight at Reading in grades (K-5) and a hundred and seven at Americus in grades (K-5).   During this school year, Reading has shared teachers in a couple of combined classrooms.  

About three months after the bond failed, in February 2018, the board passed a motion to “close” Reading Elementary.   Shortly after, a group of teachers and an established not for profit entity, proposed that a charter school with a dyslexia emphasis be created at Reading.  A charter school is a school with a specialized mission operated within a school district.  These professionals felt it would be a winning solution to put students with special learning needs into classrooms with a smaller number of students and at the same time maybe increase the enrollment in the NLC district.   It was anticipated that it could increase enrollment at Reading by 10-20 students the first year.   Training of the teachers would have been funded by a grant written by the not for profit entity at no cost to the district.  

Studies estimate that one in five students has dyslexia.  NLC was handed an opportunity to explore something positive and create a unique identity for our district.   It was an opportunity to possibly become early leaders and embrace a critical need area in education.  It could have potentially increased enrollment, but more importantly, it was an opportunity to help families struggling with dyslexia issues in our own district and beyond.

Attracting out-of-district students to NLC has been controversial.  The difference in cost/risk to the district and the education mission between these two proposals is enormous.  The bond proposal asked the patrons to borrow millions for a new school and a new sports complex.  ‘New’ could have potentially attracted students to NLC.     With the charter school proposal, there was no huge outlay of money, existing facilities were fine.  The mission, the hope of the charter school, was to make the reading process easier for students. 

The charter school proposal was rejected by the majority of the NLC school board in April, 2018.  They also formally closed Reading Elementary at the end of the 2017-18 school year.       

Reading Elementary does have a smaller enrollment number but it still contains nearly 1/3 of the total (K-5) population of NLC.  There is no guarantee that those students displaced by closing Reading will choose to attend Americus Elementary.  In the fall of 2017, fifty-two (K-12) NLC students chose to attend schools in Mission Valley, Osage City, Lebo and SLC schools.   Will nearly 1/3 of our (K-5) students decide to follow? 

The charter school opportunity did not contain a significant risk to the district nor did it contain a significant cost to the district.   Reading Elementary could have been closed, at a later date, if the charter school had failed to thrive.

Is it possible to be “Penny-Unwise and Pound-Foolish”?

 

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