McKinley Middle School parent meeting
As was reported last Friday, the Kenosha Unified School District (KUSD) is contemplating the closure of one of its middle schools, McKinley Middle School, located at 5710 – 32nd Avenue. (Click here to read that story: “McKinley Middle School May Close, Reports Say.”) Tonight, an informational meeting was held at the school for parents. About 150 people filled the auditorium.
In attendance were officials from the school: KUSD’s school superintendent Michele Hancock, assistant superintendent of secondary schools Dan Tenuta, and facilities director Patrick Finnemore. Three aldermen were also in attendance. The alderperson of the district, Anthony Nudo, was joined by G. John Ruffolo and David Bogdala. Kenosha County supervisor David Arendt was also in the audience. Mary Snyder, KUSD school board president, was present and spoke at the end of the meeting.
Hancock made a few introductory remarks. “This is a heart-wrenching recommendation to close McKinley Middle School. It has nothing to do with the principal, the staff, the community. All of those things have been outstanding. It has nothing to do with the educational program. We did not come to this decision lightly. Last year, the decision was made to close Columbus School. As you know, I inherited the district in a financial bind, and I was given the responsibility by the board to get this district fiscally solid for the years to come.” She then turned the meeting over to Finnemore.
Finnemore said that there are two questions that he will attempt to answer at tonight’s meeting. The first is “Why McKinley?” and the second is “Why now?” The answer to the second question is that the district is in a financial crisis. The Budget Council has prepared a whole series of potential cost saving items. “Twenty-eight million dollars ($28 million) is needed in budget reductions for next year.” (Last year, $30 million in cuts were made.) “Class sizes increased as a result of the budget cuts made last year. We don’t have a whole lot of other options. Factors we look at when we consider which schools to close are age of the building, location, and condition of the building. We looked at several schools. The middle schools group and the facilities group came up with some common ideas.”
To answer the question, “Why McKinley?” McKinley Middle School is one of the four oldest schools in the district which has not been renovated. Washington, Grant, and Jefferson are the others. “McKinley was built in 1921 and sits on only 2.6 acres of land. It would be very difficult to add on to this school because it’s surrounded on three sides by residential streets, and on the fourth side by an elementary school. Also, maintenance needs are enormous here. The roof needs to be replaced, 85% of the windows need replacement, HVAC and plumbing needs, old lighting, etc. Most classrooms have not seen a facelift. It’s been estimated that $12 million would be spent in the next ten years if this school were to remain.
“The second component,” Finnemore continued, “are the boundaries. McKinley has a unique boundary. It’s surrounded by the other five middle schools. We would be able to redistrict without having to move students out of the other five schools. I know that’s not good news for you parents and your children. But, we do try to effect as few people as possible.
“We are not a growing district now. A lot has changed in the last ten years. We have empty classrooms, including at McKinley. Enrollment has not gone up; it’s been flat. There are seven less students in the six middle schools now than there were five years ago. We have room for 1100 more students than we have now. I would envision renovating Washington Middle School to add capacity in ten or fifteen years, maybe even longer.”
Next Monday, another meeting will be held here at 6 pm to go over the proposed school boundaries. Finnemore stated that it didn’t make sense to talk about boundaries without first having talked about closure. Transportation costs and safety were also taken into consideration. “We don’t want to incur additional transportation costs.” He reiterated what Hancock said earlier. “It was difficult to make a decision. The bottom line is the significant financial savings of closing the building. It has nothing to do with any of you.”
Two microphones were set up so that audience members could ask questions. Two other upcoming meetings were mentioned. There will be a meeting on February 14th at the Educational Support Center at 5:30 pm. At that meeting, the school board will be given the details of the entire budget package. The board members will be able to discuss their concerns and get their questions answered at that meeting. And, on February 28th, at 7 pm at the Educational Support Center again, the board will meet to vote on the package. The public can make comments at the beginning of the meeting on the 28th. These meetings will also be televised on Channel 20.
Parents had concerns about more increased class sizes and teacher/student ratios, student safety, and whether or not this was already “a done deal.” Hancock encouraged the parents to look up the current research on the correlation between class size and learning effectiveness. “We need to change our practices. We need to use different techniques in delivering instruction to our students.”
Nudo called for input from the citizens. His complaint was that the first he heard of this was last Friday night. The city has invested a lot of money in this area with roads and increased police patrols. He stated that “he feels abandoned. What will happen to the building? With vacant buildings come blight. I just want to state that I am utterly opposed to closing McKinley. On Monday, I will be putting forth a formal resolution for the Common Council to vote on.”
Several audience members called for a referendum, but Hancock and Tenuta both stated that they thought the community would be opposed to such an idea. “People are struggling with jobs everywhere. The economy is impacting everyone.”
One audience member suggested that the administration “look at their own paychecks.” Another parent stated that she got conflicting information to what was presented here regarding capacity numbers. She stated that she had called the district office today. Finnemore responded that she had probably talked to his intern and that he had probably given her information off the website, which was outdated. He promised to provide accurate numbers to the school principal tomorrow. It would also be available on KUSD’s website, www.kusd.edu.
Bogdala also made a few comments when it was his turn to speak. He stated that he’d be supporting Nudo’s resolution on Monday. He told Finnemore that he (Finnemore) wouldn’t be making the decision; the school board would. He urged the taxpayers to call their elected officials, and he urged Snyder to make a few comments, and she did.
“I came here tonight to hear what you had to say.” She urged the citizens to e-mail her with their comments. She stated that she taught for 35 years and attended 17 different schools. “I moved all the time,” she said. “It was difficult, but survivable. There are good schools in Kenosha. Your children will find activities and make friends quickly. This is just one of many recommendations being made by administration. Contact us. To make a further comment on the economy, the economy was tremendously different back then. We have 48% of our students on free and reduced lunch. There are lots of families suffering financially.” She thanked everyone for coming and stated that she was glad that people were interested.
E-mail addresses of the board members are available on the KUSD website. If you click here, it will take you to KUSD’s board members’ page: Board Members.