The West Bend-Mallard School Board held the second of two public hearings Monday, Jan. 13, on the closing of the Mallard school building.
Like the public hearing in Mallard, Superintendent Amanda Schmidt made a presentation regarding the district's facilities and finances. Currently the Mallard building houses 110 students ranging in grades Kindergarten through Fourth grade. The West Bend School building has 264 students, which include the Early Childhood program as well as grades five through 12. Included in the West Bend numbers are the students that attend through a whole-grade sharing agreement with Gilmore City-Bradgate.
While reviewing enrollment numbers from the past and projecting into the future, Schmidt said in the last 20 years, the district has lost 200 students. The certified enrollment for fiscal year 2015 will be 325 students. The state provides about $2000 per student to the district. The total amount of money a district has to spend is primarily driven by the number of students a district has. "As the district loses students, it loses money but doesn't lose costs," said Schmidt. She also said that while expenses continue to go up, the projected maximum spending authority has flat lined.
She informed those gathered that the tax rate of a district is largely driven by a formula and only a small portion of the budget is impacted by the school board. "Certain funds have to be spent on certain things. This explains why a district might have the funds to pave a parking lot, even though they don't have money to pay teachers," she added.
"Our enrollment is decreasing, like all rural schools in the area," Schmidt said. "In projecting numbers, the state recommends that we figure loosing 5 students per year," she said. By 2018, she projects the enrollment of be 295 students. During that fiscal year, the projected Kindergarten class will be 24 and 39 students will graduate. "We need to prepare for 2018. We want to be proactive, not reactive," Schmidt said.
Schmidt estimates that the district could save $119,930 by closing the Mallard building and walking away. She added that if the district decides to maintain the building in order to use the gymnasium, the cost savings would be $70,000 - $90,000.
After presenting a sample floor plan for the West Bend building and sharing the list of pros and cons developed by the staff during a professional training session regarding the closing of the Mallard building, the group was reminded of the West Bend-Mallard Mission Statement. It reads, "The West-Bend-Mallard Community School will provide quality and equitable educational experience to prepare all students to be responsible and productive citizens committed to life-long learning."
During the public comment portion of the meeting, several people spoke about the condition of the district's buildings and the usage of the Mallard building should it close.
Joe Kenyon told the group that he believes the Mallard building is a total asset to both communities. He asked about the moving costs and said he also questioned if the $70,000 - $90,000 savings was worth putting the students in a smaller area.
Marvin Fehr said he wanted to stress that both the buildings are good buildings and that both communities have the responsibility to see that an empty building doesn't become an eye sore.
Jim Gehrt commented about the long relationship between the communities of Mallard and West Bend. He said he wants what is best for the children and echoed other comments about the Mallard building being in excellent condition. He also said he wondered that if enrollment would increase, would there be room to handle it.
Tammy Sabin asked the board to take into consideration how the district would be financially impacted if children open enrolled out once the building in Mallard closed. "I think you need to take into consideration Highway 4. Other districts would be closer for us," she added.
Melissa Zaugg asked if the decision is made to keep the Mallard building open, what the back-up plan might be. "Is there another plan to save money by 2018?, " she asked.
Towards the end of the public comment section, Neil Schmidt said, " Whatever decision is made, we will need to come together. People from both communities need to come up with innovative ideas to make the district stronger."
The outcomes from both public hearings will be discussed at the West Bend-Mallard School Board Meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 21. Superintendent Schmidt said she believed a decision about closing the Mallard building would be made at the February meeting.