It has not been a good year for Athens, Pennsylvania. First there was flooding. Now the school district faces an $850,000 budget gap. In an effort to close the gap, they're looking at shutting down three elementary schools. Our Lara Greenberg joined us from the Corning newsroom with more.
ATHENS, Pa. – Athens is hoping that by closing three elementary schools, it will save up to a million dollars per year. But parents we spoke with are not happy about the proposed plan.
Empty playgrounds and locked doors could soon be the norm at Sheshequin-Ulster Elementary School. The Athens School District is looking to shut it down, along with Gladys Burnham and Harriet Child Elementary Schools.
With an $850,000 budget gap looming over Superintendent Doug Ulkins' head, this might be his only chance at saving teachers and programs.
"This will balance the budget for next year and add to balancing the budget in the following years. We're looking for sustainability here and not having to hurt any more programs," Ulkins said.
SRU Middle School would become an elementary school for students from the closed schools. Harlan Rowe Junior High would become a middle school for sixth, seventh and eighth graders and ninth graders would go to the high school.
But parents are concerned about transportation and program cuts.
"And if they're going to do that, then you have to wonder what comes after that. Is it going to be a bigger class that they have to deal with it? And are they going to get less attention? Less of what they need?” Jennifer Vandegrift wondered.
Ulkins says he's not surprised parents are upset about the plan, but restructuring will also offer some academic benefits to students.
"We eliminated last year industrial technology, family and consumer science, among many other things. For kids in the middle school, they'll be able to have those courses again," Ulkins said.
Ulkins wants to close the schools for just three years. Should enrollment increase, he hopes to re-open them.
But parents like Vandegrift already want out.
“I was thinking about homeschooling because I'm concerned about the funding and all the programs getting pulled. I think it's having a terrible effect on the children's social growth," Vandegrift said.
There will be an information meeting Tuesday night at the Athens Area High School at 7 p.m. The board needs to vote on the plan by the end of the month.