GENOA – Before proposing to shutter three of the district’s five schools at a community meeting this week, Genoa-Kingston School District 424’s board met several times over a period of months to discuss a variety of proposals that would address the district’s declining enrollment and long-term budget deficit.
About 80 people attended Tuesday’s community meeting and many asked questions about how the proposal would affect students in the district. Superintendent Joe Burgess said the meeting was designed to gauge public opinion about how to proceed.
“There were lots of questions about the district’s finances,” he said.
The meeting, he said, showed “the community is willing to come out and talk.”
Afterward, about 15 people signed up to serve on a committee that would help guide future board decisions.
One of the plans under consideration is closing Kingston Elementary School, Davenport Elementary School and Genoa-Kingston Middle School and turning the district’s other two schools into academic centers. The district would renovate Genoa-Kingston High School to accommodate students in grades seven through 12 and renovate Genoa Elementary School to accommodate kindergarten through sixth-grade students, Burgess said.
Under that plan, seventh- and eighth-grade students would be in a separate wing of the high school, Burgess told the board in March.
Renovations are expected to cost less than $15 million, and wouldn’t require the board to seek a voter-approved tax referendum, according to minutes from its March 15 meeting.
At that meeting, Burgess said, “The thought of restructuring our district at a tax savings to our community, and knowing as a district we are not going to fold up and die, but explode with opportunities for our students and our community is exciting,” meeting minutes show.
Restructuring Genoa Elementary would require the district to buy existing homes near the school to make room for the construction, bus and water needs, minutes show.
Burgess said Wednesday that closing the three schools would save the district about $250,000 to $350,000 a building a year.
He said that consolidating to two academic centers was just one option that had been discussed and that no decision had been made about how to proceed. Feedback from Wednesday’s community meeting would be presented to the board at its next meeting, May 24, Burgess said.
Other options include doing nothing or closing one building at a time, Burgess said. If the district fails to restructure, property owners could see their tax rate increase significantly to cover balloon payments on money the district borrowed to build the existing high school.
In February, the board also talked about the possibility of closing Kingston Elementary School, Davenport Elementary School, Genoa-Kingston Middle School and building a new campus for kindergarten through eighth-grade students, meeting minutes show.
Burgess said the district’s enrollment has declined by about 250 students in the past five to six years – a drop of more than 10 percent. Meeting minutes show there are about 16 empty classrooms spread among the K-through-eight buildings.
Burgess said the board is concerned about what would happen to the three schools, if it decides to move forward with that proposal. He the said buildings could be sold, donated, put up for auction or retained.
“The board is concerned about empty buildings,” he said.
At a February board meeting, Burgess suggested that some of the shuttered buildings could be used by municipal governments and the park district. One building “is in a prime location and could be sold for retail development,” according to the minutes. The buildings weren’t identified.
Board President Paul Kruse couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday. Kingston Village President Jim Baenziger also couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.
At a meeting in April, board member Kristin Brynteson said, “It is vital to be innovative in creating a positive outcome from a bad situation,” minutes show.