PALMYRA — Over the next few months the Fluvanna School Board will debate how to fit a budget in the allocated funds from federal, state and local levels. One possible cut that will probably be debated in earnest this year is the closure of Columbia Elementary School and Cunningham Elementary School.
In any event of closing either or both schools, jobs will be eliminated. That is the major saving because utilities reportedly are not that high for either school.
Currently the district is set up with Columbia, Cunningham and Central Elementary School as being kindergarten through second grade. Carysbrook Elementary School has third and fourth grade with fifth through seventh grade in Fluvanna Middle School. The high school holds children from eighth grade to senior year of high school.
Any closure will force children from the closed school to Central. Central is built for 1,100 students but from a program standpoint it is hard to accomodate over 1,000 students. Central’s average daily attendance for November 2012 was 520 students.
The community schools average for November was 113 for Columbia and 190 for Cunningham. Central has, reportedly, five open classrooms currently but it is not nearly as simple as plugging children into the open classrooms or expanding the current average class size.
The biggest concern is mandate programs like special education. One example is children with server and profound disabilities. The district is required to provident the proper accommodations.
The district is alos required by the Virginia Standards of Quality to have certain personnel outside of the normal classroom teacher. Those include reading specialists, librarians and other necessary support staff.
SOQ is based on numbers and elementary schools really are not anticipated to be higher than 750 students. In some cases, pushing beyond that number leaves SOQ marks a little blurry and then based on local values.
Closing Columbia Elementary School and moving students to Central could save $550,000. The estimate from the district office puts that number as the maximum savings. Administration notes that will change the instructional method and increase class sizes at Central.
It will also result in lost jobs. Teachers and various support staff will no longer be needed as existing personnel at Central will handle similar duties and already do for Central.
Closing Cunningham Elementary school and moving students to Central could save $700,000. Again, the estimate from the district office places the number as the maximum potential savings. It will have the same impacts as the Columbia closing but it would involve more children moving.
Closing both schools and make Central Elementary as the only lower elementary school could save a maximum of $900,000. The reason the savings of closing both schools is not the same as adding the savings of closing each individually is SOQ requirements and other mandates.
If both schools are closed, Central Elementary’s attendance would swell to 823, if using the average attendance of each school from November 2012. That would be similar size to the average attendance of Fluvanna Middle School. Elementary level has different SOQ marks that would require the district to keep or hire the necessary personnel it would not need with just closing one school.
The savings of closing any school is based on employment salaries and benefits. Increasing the size of Central Elementary School by nearly 60 percent will require more staff disproportionately than adding around 30 percent if one school is closed.
In only a matter of space, Central could add the 303 students currently housed in the community based schools. It’s attendance would be 823, still 177 short of maximum program capacity and 277 short of building capacity. If Fluvanna adds 44 students per year (10 students per grade per year) over the next four years, Central Elementary School would be at program capacity.
Carysbrook Elementary School’s November average attendance of 578 is 65 students short of capacity. That does not leave wiggle room if the district wanted to house another grade level in Carysbrook.
If Columbia and Cunningham close for the 2013-2014 school year, it is estimated Fluvanna will need to build another elementary school within five to 10 years. A point both the supervisors and the school administrators highlighted at the Dec. 5 budget work session.
The cost of an elementary school can be estimated around $15 million. Construction for the new Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Louisa County is $13.5 million, according to the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star.
The School Board budget seminar is Jan. 18 and will probably last most of the day. It starts at 9 a.m.