Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — In the end, the Lockport Board of Education was sure.
About an hour after being told by a resident to be sure about the closing of Washington Hunt Elementary, board trustees voted 7-1 Wednesday to close the Rogers Avenue school by September 2013.
Board members said they did not make the decision lightly.
”I’m not going to sit here and pretend I can say something that will make this any easier,” said President John Linderman. “It’s not an easy decision for this board to come to.”
”It’s with a heavy heart I voted,” said Trustee James Gugliuzza, a Hunt alum.
Superintendent Michelle T. Bradley said the district will move forward, deciding whether to sell or lease the building. The roughly 250 kids who attend Hunt will be transferred by the fall of 2013, not including the ones who will move up to fifth grade at Emmet Belknap Intermediate.
Of those who won’t be in fifth or sixth grade by 2013, most are expected to attend Roy B. Kelley on East High Street. The majority of the Hunt kids are eligible to be bused, as most live more than a mile from the other Lockport elementary schools.
A group of parents were present at Wednesday’s meeting, pleading with the board to either keep the school open or take more time to consider the closure. A few were worried about the impact on their children’s education.
”Very concerned,” said David McBeath, father of three kids who attend Hunt.
McBeath gave a copy of a study done by Lisa Wolf of Kansas University School of Education to Lockport school board members. The study says students who attend smaller schools receive a better education than they would at a larger school. Teachers can give more personal attention to students and get to know the parents easier.
”I understand the position they’re in, but they need to think creatively,” McBeath said.
Wendy Bacon said her family was happy with the education her children receive at Hunt. The projected savings from closing the building, about $592,231, did not justify losing the school.
”Not at the expense of my children’s future,” she said.
A parent of two at Washington Hunt, including a son who will enter his fifth school in seven years, Michael Foster said losing a school like Hunt could have adverse effects on the community. Parental involvement in their children’s education could be reduced and stability of the community threatened.
Foster told board members about his decision to move to Livingston Place within the Washington Hunt community. He told board members to be sure about their decision to close the school.
”I am sure that all the funding and facilities in the world cannot guarantee the quality of education we already have in Washington Hunt,” he said. “I am sure that my children’s principal and teachers are easily accessible every day after school and they know all of our names.”
Work on a classroom addition at Kelley is expected to begin in the fall. The addition was a part of an $18.9 million capital project approved by voters last year. Some residents said had they known it would lead to the closure of Hunt, they probably would have voted differently.
Bradley said closing Hunt was something the district has talked about for some time, although it wasn’t clear with the public. Hunt was one of three Lockport schools that were not ADA compliant, the other two being DeWitt Clinton and John Pound. Clinton was closed two years ago and is now owned by Head Start of Niagara County and Pound became the district’s early childhood center.
Hunt parent Christine Wirth read a letter to the board from Peter Robinson, a Lowertown parent whose kids once attended DeWitt Clinton. Robinson said in his letter while he understood the position the board was in, since Clinton closed taxes have still gone up and there has been a negative effect on the community.
”Our identity was lost,” the letter read.
Trustee Joe O’Shaughnessy was not present at the meeting. Trustee Diane Phelps, the lone no vote, said she wanted more information on Hunt, specifically involving student transportation.
”I’d like to revisit this,” she said.
The board would have to take action in order to lease the building. To sell the school, approval is needed from district voters.Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241.