OREGON – David L. Rahn Junior High School in Mount Morris will be closed at the end of the 2021-22 school year, the Oregon Community Unit School District 220 board decided at its Aug. 16 meeting.
The board voted 5-2 to close the school on the recommendation of Superintendent Dr. Tom Mahoney. Board members Mindy Nesemeier and Molly Baker voted against the closure.
The day after the meeting, Mahoney sent a letter to families in the district about the decision.
“This decision was not made lightly, the board spent countless hours reviewing financial and educational data from the Mt. Morris Advisory Group and the district,” he wrote. “While I know some will be disappointed with the decision to close DLR, I believe that this decision, combined with the increase in local tax revenue (due to housing values increasing), the Federal COVID relief funds, and prudent spending, will position OCUSD in a strong financial position.”
Mahoney recommended to the school board at a meeting in May that the district consider closing DLR. He said that the decision to recommend closing the school came down to money, with the district spending more than it is taking in. He also said the school needs fixes that would cost between $2 million and $6 million.
The roughly 200 students who now attend DLR will be moved to Oregon High School.
On Aug. 2, the citizens advisory board presented information that showed the costs to repair the school are lower than cited by Mahoney. The presentation also showed that property tax revenues would be rising.
“I am discouraged by the vote of the OCUSD to accept Dr. Mahoney's recommendation to close DLR and believe it is a shortsighted decision that is not in the best interest of students, staff and the community,” said Phil Labash, Mount Morris village president. “The Citizen's Advisory Board showed, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that property tax increases over the next several years will allow the district to operate from a position of strength for years to come, without closing DLR.”
The advisory board did change the mind of Nesemeier, who had originally supported closing DLR. In written comments, she said the school is not in need of immediate repairs to the extent that Mahoney suggested. She also questioned enrollment figures and incorporating junior high students into the high school.
“Lastly, if we look around at other school districts in the area that are multiple communities with their school district most if not all have a school presence in their larger towns,” she wrote. “Stillman Valley has a school in Monroe Center. Forreston has a school in German Valley. Are we really the school board that wants to demolish years of cooperation between Mt. Morris and Oregon?”
The day after the meeting, advisory board member Robert Urish said the “wounds are pretty raw at the moment.”
"… We are confident, that in the court of public opinion each one of Superintendent Mahoney's reasons for his recommendation to close DLR was thoroughly refuted, it is incomprehensible that only two board members agreed and that the board did not even offer a ‘stay of execution’,” he said.
For his part, Labash said that the lives of DLR students and staff members will be disrupted and learning will be compromised because the decision.
“This was a bad decision that will impact the district for years to come,” he said.