Mendon School Board ponders possible sale of Loraine Elementary School

Posted: Jan. 22, 2013 8:09 am Updated: Feb. 12, 2013 9:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

The Mendon School Board is mulling the possibility of selling Loraine Elementary School, which has been shuttered the past two years.

Meanwhile, the board is also exploring the feasibility of adding onto Mendon Elementary School, which could lead to the eventual closure of Greenfield Elementary School.

However, no firm decisions have been made. Superintendent Diane Robertson said these ideas are simply in the discussion stage as School Board members look for possible ways to save money in light of declining state funding.

"The board decided that, as one of their long-term goals, they want to look and see how they can become more efficient internally with consolidating facilities and, therefore, staff," she said.

The board actually initiated the consolidation process in May 2011 when it decided to shut down Loraine Elementary School for the 2011-12 school year and shift the school's kindergarten and pre-kindergarten students to Mendon Elementary. Also at that time, the board decided to convert Greenfield into a center for grades 2-4.

The decision to shut down Loraine Elementary was precipitated by uncertainty over state funding for the district's pre-kindergarten program housed there. As it turned out, the School Board learned in July 2011 that it would not receive any state funding for pre-K, so the program was discontinued altogether.

"We don't see that coming back because the state hasn't been consistent in funding that," Robertson said.

She said Loraine Elementary would only be needed in the future if the district were to restore the pre-K program. But with no such program on the horizon, Robertson said, board members thought "maybe it's time to unload it" rather than keep paying for upkeep and utilities.

Meanwhile, the board is exploring the feasibility of adding onto the Mendon Elementary School with the idea of eventually closing Greenfield and putting all elementary-age students under one roof.

Robertson said this consolidation proposal is being spurred by a $1.2 million school construction grant from the state. Though the state awarded the grant to the district last year to compensate for $3 million worth of improvements the district made to its heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, the state hasn't yet turned over the money.

"We were supposed to have been paid last year, but they ran out of money before they got to us," Robertson said.

She expects the money to be released the next time school construction grants are distributed. Once the money arrives, Robertson said, board members hope to earmark the funds for the proposed addition to Mendon Elementary -- a project that would likely cost much more than $1.2 million, Robertson added.

While awaiting the arrival of the grant, school officials will be contacting an architectural firm about revising a building-addition plan developed in 2001 for Mendon Elementary. Robertson said the School Board also wants to "get input from the community" on these proposals before making any decisions.

"This is just starting that discussion," she said. "We probably wouldn't be looking at doing anything for three to five years at the soonest."

As talks get under way on these long-range plans, the School Board is also looking at some short-range solutions for increasing revenue. At its monthly meeting last week, the board discussed the possibility of increasing student fees or issuing working cash bonds as ways to generate revenue.

"If the state continues to cut us in funding, probably sometime next year or the following year we're going to need some cash to keep cash-flow going," Robertson said.

In other action, the board:

º Set high school graduation for 2 p.m. May 19 in the high school gym.

º Employed Marci Fessler as assistant bookkeeper.

º Accepted the resignation of Lexi Mayberry as high school football cheerleading coach.

º Recognized Lauren Lewis as high school student of the month for January.