Covington residents are voicing their opposition to a proposal from the school district to close 9th District Elementary, which the district said would save almost $1 million in 2024.
If the schools were consolidated, the district said in a presentation to the school board last week, class sizes wouldn’t go up past the current 24 student-per-teacher ratio, and no teachers would lose their jobs.
Students at 9th District would be redistributed mostly between Latonia and Glenn O. Swing elementary schools.
Bill Wells, whose grandchildren attend school in the district, said at a school board meeting last week he was worried about how closing a school would impact the students’ education in the face of Covington’s growing population.
“By reducing schools it will probably increase the number of students per teacher,” Wells said, “and I feel in no way that that’s going to improve the student’s education.”
Mike Brosmere said his worry when it comes to consolidating the schools is that his granddaughter could become a statistic if her school closes. He expressed concern about overworked teachers.
“She’s getting offers from all over the country because of Holmes High School, because of the administration and because her grandfather is on her butt and will not accept anything but excellence,” he said. “I hope you guys [the board] don’t close the school and overload the teachers.”
Ken Kippenbrock, the district’s executive director of Human Resources and Operations, presented the plan at last week’s meeting.
“It’s a difficult subject,” Kippenbrock said, elaborating that this was not the “Kippenbrock plan” but rather the joint recommendation of the superintendent, who was not present at the meeting, and every member of the superintendent’s cabinet.
“This is the recommendation of the entire panel,” Kippenbrock said. He also said that it was a recommendation made “with students in mind, as a result of years of discussion.”
The proposal was based off of trends that Kippenbrock’s office has observed in student enrollment and attendance over the last 40 years. According to the data presented, the district is at its lowest for both measures during that time period.
Projections from the data, which Kippenbrock had a lot of confidence in, suggested that enrollment and attendance was likely to drop in the coming years.
This presents a problem for the district, as its funding from the state is tied to attendance rates, per the Support Education Excellence in Education in Kentucky (SEEK) program, which was put in place by the Kentucky General Assembly in 1990. Lower numbers of students means lower funding, which makes it harder to maintain all of the schools in the district, Kippenbrock argued. He said that the elementary schools were currently operating at about 71% capacity and still receives funds based on attendance numbers from before the onset of the pandemic.
He also presented some demographic information about the schools as it related to economically disadvantaged students and the number of students of color. Board of Education member Kareem Simpson had requested the information at the previous board meeting on Jan. 24.
Kippenbrock predicted that closing 9th District school would lead to an estimated savings of $961,000 for the district in 2024. He was quick to add that all of the students currently going to 9th District would be retained. What’s more, at a similar presentation on Jan. 24, he had addressed the chance for increasingly crowded classrooms. He had said the current student to teacher ratio for elementary classrooms, 24 students per teacher, would not change, although he admitted that circumstances often prevent the district from meeting that ratio exactly.
Plus, Kippenbrock stated, no teachers would lose their jobs if the school closed. In fact, he said the money freed up from the closure would make it easier to provide teachers and other staff with raises and benefits.
Board members shared their thoughts after Kippenbrock finished his presentation.
Board member Stephen Gastright spoke of his hope for the district to critically plan for the coming years, hoping that future decisions would be made on a more “proactive” basis, as he put it. That being said, he admitted that “the financial case is very strong for why we should consider consolidating these two school communities.”
“It’s strong for at least operating one less school I would say,” Gastright said.
Board member Kareem Simpson compared previous decisions made by the board, specifically the decision to bus students living in public housing, which was made prior to his tenure on the board, to this one.
“So right now we’re busing kids from City Heights past one of the best schools in our region to 9th District,” Simpson said.
He wondered if the board decision to institute that policy resembled the one being made about the school closure. He added that, in spite of the work that clearly went into collecting and analyzing district data, greater engagement from the community was needed.
“This decision is a very corporate way to fix a problem that’s not always corporate facing,” Simpson said.
“I think there are additional things that need to be considered,” he went on to say. “Community involvement, stakeholder involvement.”
Member Glenda Huff, who’s served on the board for 23 years and has overseen the closures of two schools in that time, responded to Simpson’s worries.
“I have closed two schools, and the communities around those schools have done just fine,” Huff said. “Our communities are resilient.”
Still, she said, “We shouldn’t be making the decision because we haven’t heard from our stakeholders.” She recommended setting up public meetings to let members of the community speak to other stakeholders about the decision.
Board of Education Chair Tom Haggard agreed.
“We can’t make these decisions without having all the stakeholders at the table,” Haggard said.
No votes took place at last week’s meeting. The next Board of Education meeting will take place on Feb. 23 at 5 p.m. at 25 E. 7th St. in Covington.