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01-09-03: Will school board close Franklin elementary?
Superintendent to present options to cut budget

The Daily Standard
    Franklin Elementary School staff learned Wednesday that Celina City Schools board members will vote Monday on closing the Montezuma school indefinitely.
    The announcement comes within five days of the Celina board of education meeting when board members will consider budget reduction options to address the $1.5 million deficit facing the district next year. The deficit comes after voters rejected six levies since March 2000.
    Superintendent Fred Wiswell confirmed Wednesday afternoon that he had personally visited the Montezuma school that morning to apprise the staff of details of the budget reduction plan, which includes the possibility of closing Franklin school. The Daily Standard spoke with Wiswell on Wednesday after receiving an anonymous call on the announcement.
    He said the Franklin visit was just one of a series of meetings he's held to inform district staff of budget reduction recommendations and considerations he'll make Monday to the board.
    "Closing Franklin School is just one option the board will consider on Monday.
    "I feel it is a professional courtesy to the district staff, and my obligation, to inform them of the options the board will consider to address the five-year deficit we're faced with," Wiswell said.
    Franklin school's 157 kindergarten through fourth-grade students are under the professional direction of Principal Diane Kramer, 18 full- and part-time teachers and eight support staff.
    Wiswell had no comment on details of the closing option including how many, if any, of Franklin's personnel would be absorbed in another district school.
    The Montezuma school enrollment includes many students living in other elementary school districts where they will logically return should Franklin close.
    Ironically, school officials pumped about $2 million into Franklin elementary just a few years ago to add a 16,000-square-foot addition that doubled the size of the school, and recently during levy campaigns, they've said they need money to make repairs and renovations to West elementary.
  "The time to close the school was six or seven years ago before they poured all that money into expanding it," Montezuma Village Councilor Randy Garman told The Daily Standard via telephone Wednesday night.
    Garman said he believes school officials "knew back then what financial shape they were in."
    "It was a bad idea to begin with. Now, it'll be hard on these little kids to be bussed somewhere else," Garman continued.
    "I guess the school has to weigh the pros and cons (of addressing the budget deficit) and do what they have to do," he said.
    The councilman said he could recall only one precinct in Montezuma's east and west voter precincts that had passed a school levy in the past six years.
    "No, I did not vote for the school tax in November," said Celina resident Heather Haines as she waited outside Franklin school Wednesday afternoon to pick up her daughter Jacqueline, who attends kindergarten there.
    Haines said she's aware of the district's financial problems, but hopes the school doesn't have to close.
    "A couple years ago (district officials) didn't know where the money went. Since then they say Othere is no money!' Well, there must be some money because they just built a fancy fence around the football field. Maybe they spend too much on sports to begin with," she added.
    If an athletic department cut looms, in the options the community will know in a few days when the total package is revealed. Wiswell would not comment on the details of the budget reduction plan or what would happen if voters passed a future levy. He said those details would be released at Monday's budget and regular board meeting at 6:30 p.m. in the high school lecture hall.
    Wiswell said he and his staff have worked on putting together the option package he'll present Monday night every day since the five-year, 1 percent income tax levy failed in November.
    "It's a good package for our students that responds to the program deficit as well as to the amount of financial support this community is able and willing to give," he said.


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