Eola, Oak Grove schools face closure

Superintendent sees no alternative

INDEPENDENCE -- Oak Grove School will close.

Students at the Eola Alternative School will move to the school district office and share space with the teen parent program.

Central School District Superintendent Forrest Bell sees no alternative. As the district's budget committee started meeting April 21, the numbers were inescapable.

"This is a sad era closing," Bell said.

"I just met with Oak Grove parents on Friday. They are the nicest people just trying to keep the education out there alove for the kids. They love Oak Grove."

Bell said he loves Oak Grove as well. Eola too.

"These are critically important schools."

Critically important or not, they are going away. Eola students will abandon their historic schoolhouse off Highway 22.

At least the program will survive, Bell said. It has to. Alternative education is federally mandated. Nonetheless, the loss of the old schoolhouse will be keenly felt.

District officials will hold on to the building for now.

"It's hard to give up hope on something like this. Maybe the program there can be restored someday. I don't think we'll act hastily."

Bell gets a lot of call from parents who blame the school district and budget committee.

"They say this is a really bad decision. And they're right. The say this isn't in the best interest of the kids. And they're right. They're right about all these things."

What people fail to understand, Bell said, is that school finance is no longer in local hands. When it comes to revenue, voters practically disbanded school boards and budget committees in 1995.

That's when voters approved property tax limitations and shifted the burden of basic school support to the Legislature.

"This is a frustration for all of us," Bell said.

"People come to us as if schools were still under local control. That's been lost by districts and parents. Budget committee and board have no say over the revenue. The revenue is set at the state level."

The Legislature tells districts how much money they will get. In Central, at least 85 percent of that amount is spent on contractual obligations. There's no room to manuever.

The remaining 15 percent comes with state and federal strings attached, said Bell.

"There's really a misunderstanding of how regulated this industry is."

So does the district even have a budget committee? That law says so.

"The law says we still have to have budget committees but they can't really solve anything," Bell said. "It's a very frustrating for community to go through."

Central has already seen massive budget cuts. But closing the rural schools really hurts, Bell said.

"To close those schools is heart breaking for everyone but we have to balance our budget."


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