The Sioux Falls School Board has given a school consolidation and closure plan for three central schools the green light. Longfellow, Mark Twain, and Jefferson will be closed. The district will also build a new multi-million dollar elementary school on the Mark Twain site. It will be bigger, and physically better than the aging historic neighborhood facilities.
The school board devoted time for those for and against the plan before Monday’s decision.
“In Sioux Falls, how do we identify ourselves?” neighbor Vernon Brown asked. “[we go by] the nearest park and the nearest elementary school. That is important to our community.” Brown argued the district should find a use for the Longfellow Elementary building before they vote to close it.
“It means that in a district that prides itself on education opportunity and choices, we're eliminating a significant choice: the small school,” parent David Anderson said.
The board approved the plan by a vote of four to one. Board Member Kate Parker's children attend Longfellow. She voted against the closure, saying poorer students who attend the school could get lost in the crowd at a bigger building.
“I was not elected to rubber stamp each proposal made by the administration. I have asked questions and done research to make sure my decision would be unbiased,” Parker said, “I'm concerned about education the 150 English Language Learner students at Longfellow. I'm concerned about educating the 78 percent on free and reduced lunch at Longfellow."
“There's several people I've talked to that have been very supportive of a new school in the inner core of our city and are thankful for that,” School Board Vice President Julie Westra said. She voted in favor of the plan.
The district says a new multi-million dollar building will save money, and that bigger doesn't mean less student-teacher time. The new building is estimated to save the district more than $800,000 annually. It is scheduled to open for the 2015 school year.