Lake Ridge community mulls closing an elementary school
By Michelle L. Quinn Post-Tribune correspondent March 12, 2013 10:08PM
Updated: April 14, 2013 6:34AM
GARY — Lake Ridge School Corp. isn’t close to making a decision as to which of its three elementary schools it will close at the end of the school year.
The School Board is still gathering information, Lake Ridge Superintendent Sharon Johnson-Shirley told a crowd at Grissom Elementary School during the first of three public hearings the corporation is hosting this week about the closing. The board needs to take into account such items as the buildings’ health, enrollment for 2013-14 and the number of retiring teachers.
Chances are, however, that it will happen, and Johnson-Shirley assured the crowd it is not a task the board is taking lightly.
“No one is taking any joy in this,” she said. “Closing any of our schools will be destructive to our community, and we are aware of the devastation.”
The administration fielded written questions from the crowd ranging from what school board members make per meeting to why the corporation hasn’t considered either issuing a bond or a holding a referendum to raise the school levy, like the School Town of Munster is doing. Business manager Jim Huddleston said neither option would be optimal for the community because of cost.
“With a bond issue, we have to pay it back, and that would put us in a deeper hole,” he said.
A referendum, meanwhile, would take 18 months to put together — which, since the corporation will run out of money by October if they don’t close a school, won’t help — and wouldn’t guarantee a school reopening because there’s no guarantee it would get the entire amount it wants because of declining tax draws and property tax caps. For example, if the corporation asked for the $1.2 million it would save by closing a school, and the tax draw for the school district is 74 percent, Lake Ridge would get only $740,000, Huddleston said.
As to the board giving up its stipend, Johnson-Shirley said board members frequently donate money to the schools and that it would be a lot to ask for anyone to not get paid.
“I understand you want to find dollars everywhere you can, but the little money they get will never compensate the work they do,” she said of the $2,000 annual stipend board members receive.
Mary Patrick, who has three children at Grissom and another at Lake Ridge Middle School, said some of her questions were answered but she was unhappy that no one could give a definite answer as to when they would decide which school is closing.
“They seem to be trying to do something, but it’s not stopping them from closing the school,” Patrick said. “It’ll be really difficult for my kids. I have twins in second grade and a kindergartner, and they’ve always come (to Grissom) for after-school programs. They’re going to have to make this OK for the kids, maybe with a whole day of transition instead of a couple hours before school starts.”
Lake Ridge School Corp. will host two more meetings, from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Hosford Park Elementary and from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Longfellow Elementary.