West Branch planning community forum on Facebook Live March 30

BELOIT – A West Branch Schools community forum will be held on Facebook Live at 6 p.m. March 31 to discuss the reconfiguration of the district.

Schools Superintendent Timothy Saxton will provide an update on the planning for the 2020-2021 school year. The live stream will be available on the district’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/WBLSD/.

Community members and parents are encouraged to use the survey form found at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/G8ZSW3V to post questions prior to the event. Saxton and members of the school board will answer community questions during the live stream.

“This Facebook live event allows us to continue the process of consolidation for the coming school year and share information to our school community through an online format that conforms to the Governor’s current stay at home order,” Saxton said in a press release.

Saxton reported at the school board meeting last week the administrative team is focused on the following building alignments: West Branch Early Learning Center (current Damascus Elementary) of grades kindergarten through second; West Branch Intermediate and Middle School (current middle school) of grades third through eighth plus the pre-school; and West Branch High School (current high school) of grades ninth through 12th.

In response to a declining enrollment, Saxton last month recommended a consolidation plan starting with the 2020-2021 school year that will close Knox Elementary and grades pre-school through second at Damascus Elementary (472 students), third through eight at the middle school (874) and nine through 12 at the high school (499, 59 at the career center). The new plan keeps the pre-school at its current location at the middle school.

Saxton said last month the next step is to develop the plan into a formal proposal that includes staffing, transportation and logistic planning that is still concerning people.

Since January Saxton has presented multiple plans to restructure the district to save money as the request of the school board. Other proposals included a variety of grade levels at various buildings and the closure of both Knox and Damascus Elementary schools. Savings ranged from approximately $500,000 to $1 million in operational costs and $300,000 to $500,000 in personnel.

Saxton said the administrative team of principals, directors and supervisors developed the current plan based on internal committee meetings, the public forum held earlier this month and numerous conversations with each other. He said the administrative team worked to balance the current curriculum with possible expansion of curriculum while remaining efficient in operations.

According to Saxton’s past presentations, student enrollment has dropped nearly 500 students since 2009-2010 and sits at 1,980. Currently the district has 551 students at the high school in grades nine through 12 (82 attend the career center), 688 students at the middle school in grades five through eight and pre-school, 334 at Damascus Elementary in grades kindergarten through four and 325 at Knox Elementary in grades kindergarten through four.

Current operational costs, according to 2019 data from the Ohio Department of Education, are approximately $1.5 million for the high school, $1.1 million for the middle school, $490,000 for Damascus Elementary and $486,000 for Knox Elementary. The total operational cost per square for the all the buildings is $9.27 versus the state average of $7.

The board asked Saxton to present options to restructure the district to help battle a projected deficit spending of $700,000 to $800,000 the next five years. After multiple failed levies in the past few years by a growing margin, the board indicated a future levy is no longer an option. Saxton said the administrative team targeted the $900,000 savings to avoid needing a levy.

Saxton has provided a timeline that includes communicating the plan to staff and forming sub-committees to enable the change by April 1 and completing the plan by July 31. However, the plan was presented prior to the COVID-19 crisis and Saxton did not offer a new timeline beyond the live stream on Facebook March 31.



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