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Palco school closing

3/13/2014

By JUDY SHERARD

By JUDY SHERARD

jsherard@dailynews

PALCO -- This will be the last year students will attend Palco Grade School in the brick building at 602 Ash.

The board of education voted 4-2 Monday night to close the building at the end of the school year.

USD 269 Superintendent Larry Lysell estimated approximately 100 people attended a hearing Monday night to discuss the closing.

The hearing lasted a little more than an hour, and many spoke in favor of the closure, he said.

"They want to do what is best for the district," said USD 269 Board of Education President Tom Benoit, who voted to close the school.

Benoit, who grew up in the area, said it wasn't an easy vote.

"It has nothing to do with sentimental reasons. It's economical," he said.

It's been difficult "just to balance the budget. We need to get the district stabilized for a couple of years," Lysell said.

Closing the school has been a board agenda item every month since October -- with the exception of December -- and a few patrons have voiced their opinions at those meetings, he said.

The board voted 6-0 in February to publish the intent to close. At 4-2, Monday's vote was closer.

"The board knew it had to do something," Benoit said. "Everybody is still friends."

There are only six board members instead of the usual seven after a member resigned, and the board failed to approve anyone for the open position. It will be filled by an election in the fall.

The district operates three buildings -- the elementary school and Palco High School in Palco, and Damar Junior High School 4 miles away.

When the elementary school closes hasn't been determined, and no decision has been made how to split the grades between the two buildings. Most likely grades pre-K-5, approximately 85 students, will attend school in Damar and grades 6-12, nearly 60 students, will go to school in Palco, Lysell said.

Lysell also is elementary school principal, so his office probably will move to Damar. A secretary and custodian's position might be eliminated.

The elementary school opened in 1922, the junior high in 1937 and high school in 1954.

The district upgraded the junior high and high school buildings approximately four years ago using economic stimulus money, Benoit said.

"It would be more efficient to have the buildings in one town. But to close one (building) where they spent money and turn around and spend money here (elementary school) didn't make sense," Lysell said.

Benoit said if the Damar building was closed, the town would be without a school, and the board was reluctant to do that.

Closing the elementary school will save the district "$70,000-plus" a year, Lysell said.

Neither the junior high nor high school will require much renovation to be ready for the 2014-15 school year. He hasn't "put a pencil to it," but renovation expenses at the junior high, such as new carpet in a former art room, should be minimal.

The vocational agriculture room is at the rear of the elementary school and still could operate in isolation. A new facility would cost $200,000 to $300,000, Lysell said.

"I love that building. I took vo-ag classes there. I ate lunch there and went to prom there. All four of my kids went to grade school there. I attended a lot of kindergarten graduations there," Benoit said.

Lysell estimates the district could lose between two and 15 students by closing the Palco building, but he hopes that isn't the case.

"We gotta have students and families stay with us. We absolutely need everybody to stay with us," he said.