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Williamstown hearings see low turnout

Wood County Schools consolidation hearings held Tuesday at Williamstown High School saw low attendance, with less than a dozen people attending and only five people addressing the Wood County Board of Education. (Photo by Michael Erb)

WILLIAMSTOWN — The Wood County Board of Education held a second night of closure, merger and consolidation hearings Tuesday, but received low public turnout.

The board is considering a plan to close three elementary schools at the end of the 2019-20 school year — McKinley, Waverly and Worthington elementary schools.

The board Tuesday held hearings for Williamstown Elementary and Williamstown High schools. The consolidation plan would call for sixth-grade students from Waverly to attend Williamstown High School next year, which is being expanded into a true middle/high school, and both Williamstown and Waverly elementary schools would be merged into a new Williamstown-Waverly Elementary, which is set to open in the fall of 2020.

A closure hearing was held Monday at Waverly Elementary.

Only five people spoke during the two hearings at Williamstown High, and less than a dozen people attended each session. Supporters of Waverly spoke at the Williamstown hearings, again urging the board to keep the elementary school open.

Fred Clark, a former Waverly resident and businessman, spoke at both hearings, asking the board to consider other possible areas of savings and “common-sense redistricting” to increase Waverly’s enrollment.

Clark also said if Waverly remained open, the additional space from sixth-grade students being sent to middle school in Williamstown would free up classroom space for additional pre-kindergarten classes at Waverly.

“There are many different pieces to this puzzle,” he said. “Consider every option.”

Alisha Fink, whose children attend Waverly and who is the daughter of Clark, spoke out against sixth-graders being sent to the high school.

“On a sixth-grade level, they are really not ready to be part of a middle school environment,” she said. “You should keep the sixth-graders with the elementary school.”

Fink also reiterated calls to keep Waverly open in case the closing of Worthington caused the receiving school, Emerson Elementary School, to be at capacity. Fink lives in the Worthington district, but said it was a shorter drive to take her children to Waverly.

“I think it would be prudent to wait and gauge the effects of closing Worthington,” she said.

Wood County resident and parent Matthew Floyd also spoke at Tuesday’s hearings, asking about a statement made by a parent Monday who said the school system would not receive the estimated $511,000 savings from closing Waverly because the loss of federal Title I funding could cut the savings to less than $30,000.

Last year Waverly received $108,000 in Title I funding, and this year received $106,000.

John McKown, director of federal programs for Wood County Schools, said closing a Title I school would not affect Title I funding, which is a pool of federal dollars provided based on the total number of qualifying students.

The federal program requires all schools with 70 percent or more of their student population qualifying as low-socioeconomic to be Title I schools. Local school systems then can set a threshold, often at 55 percent McKown said, of other schools which would qualify for funding. The money is then divided among the qualifying schools based on those percentages.

McKown said 53 percent of Waverly’s students are low-socioeconomic status, but it and two other schools with similar percentages were allowed to continue as Title I schools for this year. Fully half the Title I funding the school receives, he said, is used to pay for a Title I interventionist, and the other half is used for outreach and parent involvement programs.

McKown said the new Williamstown-Waverly Elementary likely will not be a Title I school, but the merger also would not cost the school system any Title I funding.

Floyd also told board members as a child he had been part of a school which received students during a merger, and while there were fears and concerns, everyone quickly adapted.

“As students, we got past it,” he said. “It didn’t take long.”

Williamstown Elementary School Principal Heather Bretthauer said teachers and staff were eager to get students from both Williamstown and Waverly together.

“We want this to be a community,” she said. “We look forward to Williamstown and Waverly coming together as one whole group.”

Pat Peters, retired Williamstown High principal, asked the board to assure the new middle/high school would be accurately staffed to offer more program opportunities for students.

The board meets tonight for the next round of consolidation hearings. The board meets at 5 p.m. at Worthington Elementary School and 7:30 p.m. at Emerson Elementary School.

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