With close to 1,000 empty seats across the school district, Natrona County will close four schools next fall. Administrators say the decline in enrollment is due to a downturn in the energy industry, which has also brought reductions in state funding for education.
On Monday the school board voted on the plan to close three elementary schools and one middle school, as well as the Special Education Service Center. According to Mike Jennings, who directs human resources for Natrona County schools, the decision was not easy, but the schools selected were smaller and therefore more expensive to run. Jennings said the decision will save the district $2.5 million. He said the plan is to move teachers and staff into positions at other schools, and no layoffs are planned at the moment.
“If there’s a change in the model significant enough to deliver us a very large cut, or if we have a large decline in student enrollment, those are two factors outside of our control,” said Jennings. “If those occurred we’d be like every other district in the state and we’d have a layoff. But the closing of these buildings will not cause a layoff and we are committed to not laying off staff. “
And Jennings said the closures should not impact the quality of education.
“We’ll still be using the same class size, we will still be using the same ratios, we will not be overcrowding rooms,” Jennings explained. “We simply have space in other buildings and we can gain efficiencies with having as small an impact as possible, knowing that whenever you close a school it has a huge impact on the child.”
The roughly 650 kids affected will begin at the new school of their choosing next fall according to Rick Skatula, who oversees enrollment and school improvement in Natrona County. He said schools will begin hosting visits and open houses in the coming months so that students can get acquainted with their options.