DART - Although the tone was generally cordial, frustration over the continuing uncertainty about the future of Lawrence Elementary School was evident Thursday during a community meeting in the school's gymnasium.
More than 30 people gathered to ask Frontier Local Superintendent Bruce Kidder questions and discuss the direction of the district.
Among the suggestions made to save money was having someone from outside the district examine redistricting and bus routes, selling the old Newport Elementary gymnasium to the Newport Junior Athletic Association for $1 and suing the Wayne National Forest to recover tax revenue.
EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
Dart resident Jerry Eddy, top, makes a point to Frontier Local Superintendent Bruce Kidder Thursday during a community meeting in the Lawrence Elementary School gym.
Kidder said it was the largest turnout he's had for one of the meetings he's held to discuss the future of the district. Lawrence-area residents have shown up in droves at regular board meetings since the possible closure of the elementary school on Ohio 26 was announced this summer.
Lawrence Township resident Becky Martin, 52, said she feels Kidder is listening but she doesn't feel any more optimistic about the possibility of the school staying open than she did a few months ago.
"I think he hears our concerns. I hope he's able to convey them to the board of education so that they understand our concerns," she said.
The next regular meeting of the Frontier Local Board of Education is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Frontier High School.
Independence Township Trustee Jedd Butler said he does believe supporters of the school are in better shape because they've gotten so involved.
"Our position's going to be much better," he said. "It's certainly about involvement."
Lawrence Township resident Aaron Bills, 31, asked Kidder why action had not been taken on suggestions made at previous meetings, like rearranging the district lines to send more students to Lawrence or adjusting bus routes.
"How come we haven't tried anything yet?" he said. "We've all made suggestions at every board meeting."
"I'm in the middle of a school year," Kidder said. "I can't change everything."
Asked again about altering the district lines, Kidder said he couldn't change which school a child goes to mid-year.
"Why not?" Bills said. "I think if they could close our school tomorrow, if they could take a vote next month, they'd shut (it) down."
Kidder said district officials have mapped out where students live in the district but do not know how changing district lines might alter the numbers. While it could help equalize class sizes between the schools - Lawrence generally has smaller classes than Newport and New Matamoras - it would not change costs, he said.
"Redistricting really doesn't save me a lot of teachers," Kidder said.
The district's transportation director, Gary Bookman, has also examined ways to reduce or eliminate a bus route, but Kidder said so far the effect would put children on buses for too long.
"The last thing you want is a kindergartener on the bus for two hours," he said.
Bills asked if someone from outside the district could be hired to look at bus routes and district lines. Kidder said a less expensive alternative might be seeking the assistance of a transportation director from another district with similar geography.
Some residents asked how closing Lawrence Elementary would really save money.
Kidder said the district could eliminate three teaching positions, plus $170,000 in building and non-teaching salary costs. He acknowledged there would probably be some increase in transportation costs.
But some of those in attendance said the district would lose even more money because they would send their children to other districts. Among them was 43-year-old Lawrence Township resident Todd Clark, who has a daughter attending Lawrence Elementary.
"She'll never set foot in Newport or New Matamoras," he said.
Kidder said the board has not indicated when they might vote on whether to close Lawrence.
The board announced in September they would not do so until after a new board was seated in January. There will be one new member, Bloomfield resident Ricky Kroll, who said he does not believe closing Lawrence is the proper approach.
"There are a lot of difficult questions," he said after Thursday's meeting. "I just don't think at this time it's a very good move."
Joe Cox, a 37-year-old Lawrence Township resident with two children at the school, asked Kidder if something had to be done soon.
"Is it inevitable that this spring ... that a major cut decision has to be made?" he said.
Kidder said it was not, citing the district's current $1.8 million surplus, which is expected to drop to $1.4 million by the end of the current school year.
"I personally don't believe we're up against the wall," Kidder said.
But he added the board would be the ones to ultimately decide when the matter would be addressed and how.