The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Local News

March 8, 2013

Thomson school building’s fate to be decided

West Carroll residents hopeful that prison’s future opening could save building

THOMSON, Ill. — Discussion is continuing on whether the West Carroll Intermediate School building in Thomson will be closed.

Thomson residents attended a public meeting Wednesday night at the intermediate school gymnasium to voice concerns about the idea of the building being closed. The West Carroll Board of Education agreed later that night that answers to questions raised at this meeting will be presented at the regular board meeting on March 20. However, there will be no vote on the matter during that meeting.

“The topic is just as emotional for them (board members) as it was for the people attending the meeting,” Superintendent Craig Mathers said in a follow-up telephone interview on Thursday. He added the board is trying to offer students quality education, while dealing with the continued education cuts from the state.

The discussion on whether to close the Thomson building is based on the district’s financial status, as well as declining enrollment, according to information presented at Wednesday’s meeting. Board President Mike Highland told the public that the district has lost a total of 255 students since it started. He added that closing the building could save the district between $167,000 and $200,000. Currently the building is used as a district office and also houses pre-school and some special-education programs.

Citizens attending the meeting asked the board if there was another way to save money rather than closing the building. They also wondered if the board has considered all of the school buildings or is only focusing on the Thomson location.

Those in attendance asked the district to provide more concrete numbers on why the decision should be made.

“This is our heart, this is our soul. We built it. Nobody helped us pay for it,” Janis Wilt, who was involved in getting the school built, said. “So I want you to think twice before you spend money in other towns and close ours.”

Board member Jerry Anderson said he has thought about this idea 10 or 15 times. Anderson agreed that he does not want to close the Thomson building, but it may be necessary. Mike Klein, a member of the board, said they have gone line by line looking for ways to save money.

“We’re down to where we can’t find pennies anymore to cut and we’re still in the red,” Klein said.

He added that the only other things they could cut would be an extra band instructor, extracurricular activities and classes that are not mandated by the state.

The crowd brought up the idea of activity fees or other ways to raise money.

Highland responded that if the one-cent sales tax had been approved a couple of years back, the district might not be in this trouble.

Members of the public also brought up the possibility of the Thomson prison opening. They felt the district should not make a decision on closing a building until they know what is happening with the prison.

“If we keep waiting on the prison, we won’t have to consider. We’ll be so far in debt we’ll be done,” Anderson said.

Some of the board members agreed that they wanted to wait on this issue. Highland felt this idea was born out of fear and pride.

He said voting on closing any of the buildings right now would be a rash decision. He added they do not know what the full impact of closing the school would be.

Board member Beverly Kilpatrick asked that they wait until after Oct. 1, when they might know what is going on with the prison and the teachers’ contract has been finalized.

Tim Atherton, a Thomson representative on the board, agreed they will not know if they can fit all of the students in three buildings until teacher negotiations are finished and they have agreed on class sizes.

“I’m really tired of voting to make these kinds of cuts,” Highland said.

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