Board closes elementary school, 3 members resign

CHEROKEE, Kan. (AP) -- After months of divisive debate, a school board in one of Kansas' smallest and poorest districts voted to close an elementary school after three of the board members resigned.

The board of the Unified School District 247, which covers 326 square miles of rural Crawford and Cherokee counties, voted Wednesday night to close the school in McCune, which has 39 students in grades one, two and four. Students in kindergarten, third and fifth grades were bused this year to Weir and Cherokee because the class sizes were too small, The Joplin Globe reported ( ).

The vote came in front of an auditorium full of school patrons and after three board members resigned. One said he was moving out of the district's boundaries but the other two cited the decision to close the school in their resignations.

The district, which has the lowest average property valuation in the state at $28,000, includes Weir, population 679, with a K-6 school of 125 students; West Mineral, population 185, where the district closed an elementary school in 2003; Cherokee, with 716 residents and an attendance center for grades K-8 and the district's high school. McCune has a population of 405.

Patrons had urged the board to keep McCune open. One of the board members who resigned, Tara Underwood, said she could not support the decision to close the school.

"I can no longer serve on a board that will make a community-decimating and district-altering decision when the financial information used to support the board's decision was speculative at best. Further, other options were not explored in good faith. ... I cannot and will not support the board's decision as to the McCune Attendance Center. For me to remain on the board would imply support of its decision."

Board member Greg Hite said the district was down to "dire straits."

"There have been so many lost hours of sleep," he said. "We've kept it as long as we can, but I just don't see any other way out."