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USD 475 board of education votes to close CHES

By Julie Fiedler | 1ST INF. DIV. POST | May 08, 2014

The Board of Education of Unified School District 475 Geary County Schools voted to close Custer Hill Elementary School at the end of the 2014 to 2015 school year during a special Board of Education meeting April 21 at CHES.

“(We) have given much thought and reflection to this issue. We want you to know that we have not taken this lightly. Closing a school’s an important decision and may affect many lives, and we are taking it very seriously,” said Ferrell Miller, president, USD 475 Board of Education.

The special meeting included presentations by William Clark, director of operations, USD 475 Board of Education, and Janet Christian, executive director of finance, USD 475, as well as open comments from the public.

After discussing some of the challenges currently facing CHES, the installation’s overall student capacity and projections of future student enrollment, Clark presented a decision matrix ranking three possible outcomes. Those outcomes included closing the school at the end of the current school year, closing the school at the end of the next school year or keeping the school open indefinitely.

Clark recommended the school remain open for one more year.

Christian then discussed the school’s projected financials for the coming year. However, she pointed out those projections included several unknowns, like actual enrollment numbers, a finalized budget, which will not be available until May, and the results of pending legislation.

From a financial perspective, Christian said the school could feasibly remain open for another year.

After Clark and Christian presented their considerations and analysis, a public hearing portion opened the floor for those in attendance to share their remarks.

Several speakers gave emotional pleas to consider the students, bring the decision to a swift resolution and to take their concerns into account.

Following the public’s remarks, the board conducted an open discussion during which several board members commented they wanted to make an informed decision about the school’s future, and expressed a commitment to be the best possible stewards of the school’s students, as well as taxpayer dollars.

“Our No. 1 priority … is the students,” Miller said. “We’re going to do the right thing.”

Sgt. Maj. Ancel Bartlett, Fort Riley representative, expressed that Fort Riley and 1st Infantry Division leadership would support the board’s decision.

Board member Brian Field moved to close CHES at the conclusion of the 2014 to 2015 school year. Kimberly Milleson, vice president, USD 475 Board of Education, seconded the motion, which then passed by a vote of 4-1 in favor, with board member Carolyn Gaston dissenting.

As the school’s staff and parents filed out of the gymnasium following the vote to close the school, several hugs were exchanged in the hallway.

The school will remain open for one more year, during which time USD 475 will develop an operations plan to take into account concerns expressed by CHES staff and families.

“I’m glad we have another year together as a staff and as a family, and that we can continue to provide the best education for our students,” said Melanie Laster, principal, CHES.
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