By KENNETH HART - The Independent
ASHLAND — The current academic year will likely be the last one for Hatcher Elementary School.
The Ashland Independent Schools’ Local Planning Committee met Thursday and voted to finalize a four-year plan for the district’s buildings and grounds that would close Hatcher, which has been designated as a “transitional” site since 2003.
The plan also would also have the district move its central offices into the Hatcher building, along with the district’s Head Start program, which is currently housed in mobile units at Poage Elementary.
The plan now goes to the state Department of Education for review and approval. Assuming the state signs off on it, it would then go back to the local planning committee for a public hearing that is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. April 13 at George M. Verity Middle School, Superintendent Steve Gilmore said Thursday.
The plan would then go before the Ashland Board of Education for a vote. That’s likely to occur at the board’s April 19 meeting, Gilmore said.
Designating Hatcher for closure effectively ends the possibility that Crabbe Elementary will be shut down. In a surprise move, the committee had a motion and second last month to recommend that Crabbe — which had been designated as a pre-school-kindergarten site — be closed and that the school building become the new home for the central offices and Head Start. The plan was never voted on by the committee. That idea was met with significant community opposition.
In fact, the plan approved by the committee on Thursday recommends that Crabbe’s designation be changed from pre-school-kindergarten to a permanent kindergarten through sixth grade center, said Lisa Henson, who chairs the local planning committee.
However, Gilmore and Henson both said the outcry over the possibility of Crabbe being closed had nothing to do with the committee recommending that Hatcher be closed instead. The committee viewed the situation “through the prism of student achievement” and how that could best be served, Henson said.
Hatcher’s designation as a transitional facility in 2003 means, essentially, that the process to close the school was completed that year, and the board could have voted to close it at any time during the intervening years, Gilmore said. It also meant that the district could not spend any state facilities money for upgrades to the school, he said.
A number of factors went into the decision to close Hatcher, with declining enrollment and increased belt-tightening at the district level because of cuts in state funding being among them, Gilmore said.
While there’s no way of determining exactly how much the district will save by operating five elementary schools instead of six, Gilmore and Henson both noted that Hatcher has the highest per-student cost for delivery of services of any school in the district.
The average annual per-student cost at Hatcher is $9,399, compared with $5,625 at Oakview Elementary, which has the district’s lowest per-student cost, according to figures provided by the school system. The district-wide per-student average is $8,672; the state average is $8,902.
Gilmore also noted that a number of classrooms at Hatcher are at half-capacity or less, and said there was no way the district could justify keeping the school open under such conditions, particularly with its transitional site designation.
Hatcher is home to about 200 students in grades kindergarten through six, Gilmore said. Students who would have gone there next year will be dispersed among the district’s remaining five elementary schools, he said. Tenured teachers there will be placed in other schools, he said.
Hatcher Principal David Greene informed the school’s faculty of the committee’s recommendation on Thursday, Gilmore said, adding that the process of notifying parents would begin soon.
Ashland has not closed an elementary school since Condit was shuttered 30 years ago. During that period, neighboring districts have closed schools and made other adjustments to deal with declining enrollment.
The school system would reap significant savings from having its central offices in the Hatcher building, Gilmore said. It costs the district about $85,000 a year to stay in its current offices in the former Ashland Junior College building at 1420 Central Ave.
Once the central offices are moved, the district would attempt to find a buyer for the Central Avenue property, Gilmore said.
KENNETH HART can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2654.