The sorting-out process still is under way for the 300-plus J.B. Young students who could be without a school next year if the Davenport School Board favors a proposal to close the K-8 school at Main and Locust streets.
But whatever the new boundaries for Young students, Superintendent Art Tate assured Wednesday, class sizes will remain within the district’s standards. Elementary school classrooms are permitted a maximum headcount of 22, and intermediate schools max out at 25 students, he said.
“In the schools where we’re sending students, we’re not going to exceed class-size standards,” he said. “We have those standards we have to maintain. Teachers are added or taken away every year to meet those standards.”
If the district’s seven board members vote this fall in favor of Tate’s proposed closure, J.B. Young students will be dispersed among five other schools: Smart, Sudlow and Williams intermediates and Jefferson and Madison elementaries. J.B. Young was converted several years ago from an intermediate-only school to include grade-school students from the former Lincoln School, which was removed from the facilities roster in 2012.
One reason for proposing the latest closure is Young’s low enrollment, which amounts to 34 percent of the building’s capacity, Tate said.
While the other intermediate schools currently average 63 percent capacity, the two target elementary schools’ capacity is considerably higher. Jefferson is at 91 percent capacity, and Madison is at 83 percent.
“Our facilities team said we have more buildings than we need,” Tate said, adding the recommendation to close J.B. Young “was on me.”
Silence from school board
The decision ultimately will rest with the district’s seven elected board members, but most of them this week said a school board policy prohibits them from discussing their opinions. Any statements to the media must come exclusively from board president Ralph Johanson, most board members said.
In June, the school board lifted its own restriction on public and media commenting, amending the policy to permit board members to express their opinions — after consulting with Johanson.
“We don’t want seven different ideas on where the board is,” Johanson said at the time the amendment was passed. “The president is really the only spokesperson for the board.”
The policy is based on concerns that “people interpret board members when they speak as speaking on behalf of the board,” he said Tuesday.
Several board members cited the policy in declining to talk about the J.B. Young closure.
“Ralph (Johanson) is the spokesperson for the group,” said board member Linda Hayes, who is running for re-election on the Sept. 8 ballot. Johanson also is seeking re-election.
Board member Rich Clewell also declined to say whether he is leaning in favor or against the Young closure, saying, “It’s best if one person speaks, rather than having seven different people speaking on a topic. I don’t think it would be anything other than confusing for people to have people speak on it individually.”
Ken Krumwiede, who is wrapping up his latest school board term, referred to Johanson as the board’s spokesman, but he also responded to questions about the Young proposal.
“To me, it makes sense that we need to take a serious look at the buildings we have,” he said. “It’s always hard to take a look at closing any buildings.
“It’s pretty frustrating with everything that’s going on with the (state) funding. I’m 100 percent behind Dr. Tate and his efforts.”
Jamie Snyder, whose term runs until 2017, said he missed the portion of Monday’s board meeting during which Tate announced his recommendation.
“I really don’t have any thoughts on it, yet,” he said. “I’m really not at liberty to say, anyway,” because of the president-only policy.
He did say, however, that he attended J.B. Young and the possible closure delivers “kind of an ache in my heart.”
Board member Nikki DeFauw did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Maria Dickmann, whose board term expires in 2017 and is a candidate for the Davenport City Council, provided a statement Wednesday to the Quad-City Times. In it, she outlined her concerns and clearly stated her opinion on the school closing. However, she said Johanson intended to “tweak” her remarks. She said the board president was going to “review” her statement Wednesday evening, and she would not permit her comments to be used without his approval.
Johanson declined to address details associated with the school closing, saying he has not yet had time to ask his own questions, given the announcement was made Monday.
Tate lays out details
In his proposal to the board, Tate said the closure of J.B. Young will save the district $1.9 million annually, including $1.6 million in salary and benefits.
But Tate also said “no one would lose their job.”
On Wednesday, he clarified, saying, “You’re keeping teachers, not positions.”
The teachers and staff currently at J.B. Young will be placed in positions throughout the district, where attrition through retirement and other losses create vacancies.
Tate also explained why J.B. Young has been identified as needing $11 million in improvements, which is more than twice what most district facilities need to comply with new building standards.
The price tag for upgrades, he said, “is because of the gym, primarily.”
“It’s not sufficient for an intermediate school,” he said, adding that the current 34 percent capacity does not diminish the need for space. “You don’t need a huge gym, but that’s not the point.”
Many students at Young do not get involved in sports, for instance, because the school lacks the enrollment to field complete teams. The same goes for orchestra and choir, he said, which deprives interested students “of the full orchestra experience.”
His pitch for closing the school also promised no increase in transportation costs to the five other schools. He said Wednesday that some students who were bused from the area of the former Lincoln school now will be able to walk to Jefferson or Madison.
“It’s a wash,” he said.
Part of his proposed plan calls for relocating the Achievement Service Center, which houses administrative and board offices, to J.B. Young. The $1.7 million that currently is set aside for new air conditioning and other improvements at the Achievement Service Center would be applied to relocation costs. Eventually, the Achievement Service Center would be sold, he said, and the proceeds could be applied to relocation costs.
“We think it’s worth between $1.5 million and $2 million,” he said of the multi-story Achievement Service Center near Locust on Brady Street. “We have not yet asked someone to appraise it.”
Asked about the timing of considerations to close J.B. Young, given that the school recently advanced in math and reading achievement for the first time since 2012, Tate said, “Every school is doing the same thing. We have standard curriculum.
“That doesn’t concern me. I don’t even stop to think about it.”