GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Facing declining enrollment and projected budget deficits, Green Bay Area Public School district officials are discussing whether to shutter two elementary schools.
Those schools are Tank Elementary and Keller Elementary. Although district officials won’t make any final decisions until later this month, Monday night’s board meeting provided some insight into how some board members and community members feel about the impending decision.
First, there’s Tank Elementary. A resolution calling for its closure first appeared in June after a Facility Master Planning Task Force made a recommendation to the school board.
Initially, the resolution called for Tank Elementary School students to move to Fort Howard Elementary School. GBAPS superintendent Dr. Claude Tiller, Jr. said that doing this would have required $6 million in additions at Fort Howard to accommodate for the Tank student population.
Over the summer, the school board tabled a resolution deciding on Tank Elementary School’s fate. Superintendent Tiller said the Tank student population would now move to Lincoln Elementary School which is a newer facility, is at only 43 percent capacity, and could fit the entire Tank Elementary student population.
“We met last Monday with the Tank and Lincoln community, and we received a hand clap,” said Superintendent Tiller Jr.
Not everybody is happy that Tank Elementary is on the chopping block though.
“There is really no reason to close any majority Latino school because that population is growing in the district,” said Gratzia Villarroel who is part of an organization called the Northeast Wisconsin Latino Education Taskforce.
According to Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction data, Hispanics make up 35 percent of the student population at Tank Elementary School which is more than any other race.
While the district has seen an overall enrollment decline of about 1,500 students, there are 360 more Hispanic students in the district now compared to five years ago.
Villarroel said she’s also concerned that the decision to close Tank Elementary School will likely come before the district completes a new boundary study that’s focused on equity.
“Latino students are the future of Greater Green Bay they’re going to stay in this community, they tend to stay with their families in their communities and contribute to their communities,” said Villarroel. “I really believe in education, I believe that everybody should be equitable. Sometimes Latino children don’t have the same opportunities.”
District officials explained that schools like Tank and Wequiock (which the board previously voted to shut down) are in situations where the entire school population can consolidate into just one other school together.
They said many of the schools that will be part of the boundary study have situations where if that school closed the student population would need to get dispersed across multiple schools.
“Some of these schools can be easily consolidated,” said school board president Laura McCoy. “We know our numbers are down as far as student population. So it isn’t efficient for our schools to have 45 percent enrollment.”
The other school on the chopping block is Keller Elementary. Superintendent Tiller Jr. said they would send that student population to Kennedy Elementary. He described how that community reacted to the news.
“That was a little different, we had some tears because they thought they had some time before that happened,” said Superintendent Tiller Jr. “They were expecting two to four years out.”
“At least in this moment the human piece and the surprise factor is weighing more heavily on my mind than how fast we save that money,” said school board member Andrew Becker.
The decision on whether to close Keller is part of a $150 million referendum the district will ask voters to sign off on in the spring. The referendum will include a list of capital improvement projects including a new elementary school on the Kennedy Elementary site that will eventually absorb the population of Kennedy, Keller, and MacArthur elementary schools.
On Monday night, district officials also discussed removing West High School modification projects from the referendum. Board members expressed the need for more information on the logistics of moving the district offices to West High School which was one of the major modification projects that was part of the referendum resolution.
A district official said a decision on putting the West High School modifications on a referendum would have to be made by December otherwise it would have to appear on a referendum for another year.
Although district officials have recommended shuttering both schools, the school board will do a final vote on whether to close Tank and Keller at the end of the month. District officials said that shutting the two schools will reduce its budget deficit by about $1.5 million.
“We always knew it was going to be a hard process and that it would take several years, but our board is committed to this work and our staff are as well,” said McCoy. “We’ve assured parents, students, and staff that whatever changes are made will be positive changes ultimately.”
McCoy noted how difficult these decisions have been for board members to make and said their top priority is always the students.
“Stay engaged, look at our website for updates,” said McCoy. “Come to our school board meetings to see what we are discussing.”