MOUNT MORRIS – When Phil Labash looks to the future, he is encouraged.
Labash, village president of Mount Morris, said he is, “Committed to a future of growth and prosperity.” And that includes more students that will keep the doors of David L. Rahn Junior High School (DLR) open.
Labash will soon find out if his optimism is well placed, as the Oregon Community Unit School District 220 board is expected to vote on the closure of DLR. The Mount Morris community held a public meeting on July 15 to consider options to closure, which was recommended in May by district Superintendent Dr. Thomas Mahoney.
The board will hear alternatives to closing DLR at a special board meeting on Aug. 2.
Mahoney said that the decision to recommend closing the school comes down to the numbers.
“The last 5 years on average, we have spent $400,00 more a year than we take in,” he said.
During that time, the district has reduced the number of teachers, support staff and administrators, Mahoney said.
He said that if the cuts continue, they will directly impact education, leading to larger class sizes and cutting programs.
“If we close the junior high, we will save at least $200,000 a year in personnel cost,” he said.
If the school is ultimately closed, the roughly 200 students who now attend DLR – 7th and 8th graders – would be moved to Oregon High School.
“We currently have enough space to accommodate them,” Mahoney said.
Labash said the idea of mixing junior high and high school students is problematic. He also said that if the school closes, it will never come back. It is the last school open in Mount Morris.
“That’s a problem,” he said.
Mahoney said there are other problems, including fixes that need to be done to the building that could cost between $2 million and $6 million. He said the district last year completed its 10-year Health, Life, Safety survey that is required by the state. It found many improvements that need to be made to get the building up to code and safe for students. The fixes include a new roof, blacktop work, removing asbestos and replacing leaking pipes.
Labash said the cost would be closer to $1 million to $2 million to fix the problems at the school.
“That number may be even less,” he said.
Those fixes would require the sale of bonds, and Mahoney isn’t sure that spending the money to fix a school that might ultimately be closed anyway is the right thing to do.
But Labash is still hopeful that they can agree on a move that saves the school for the Mount Morris community. He said the recommendation to close the school was a surprise, and he is not sure other options were explored in depth before the closing recommendation, which he called the “nuclear option.”
Labash said if the school board ultimately decides to shutter DLR, that won’t be the end.
“We’ll have a year to change the board’s mind.”