Parents ask Portage district leaders to keep rural schools open

School board considers closing 3 rural schools
Parents ask Portage district leaders to keep rural schools open

Dozens of parents turned out for a meeting Monday night to ask Portage Community School District officials to reconsider their budget options before closing three rural schools.

Monday’s meeting was the first chance upset parents had to influence the school board, the people who will be taking the final vote on a proposal to close three rural schools outside the Portage city limits to deal with a budget shortfall.

So many people wanted to comment that the meeting which began about 6:30 p.m. was still going on at 10 p.m.

Parent Melissa Miller-Hayes, who lives in the rural town of Caledonia, said the best education for her 5-year-old son, Ian, and her 3-year-old son, Alex, is at her rural school.

“There’s kind of a different feel when you go to a rural school. I went to a rural school in Lewiston; it’s more family oriented,” Miller-Hayes said.

Her local school, Caledonia Elementary School, is one of three schools that district administrators want to shutter. The district needs to eliminate a shortfall of $1 million.

“Us parents are worried that the decision has been made and it’s too late, that we won’t have a say,” Miller-Hayes said.

Miller-Hayes attended the special school board meeting Monday, which drew about 175 people who were concerned about the issue.

“These schools are our best producers, and these children are our future,” said a concerned resident at the meeting.

Jack Harkins, a resident who attended the meeting, said the district should consider other options.

“I think what we’d hate to have is, five years from now, kind of look back and say, ‘Jeez, why didn’t we think of that five years ago?'” Harkins said.

Superintendent Charles Poches, who made the recommendations, laid out the district’s financial position and said it isn’t getting any better.

“This is not a recommendation that comes easily, and I don’t think it’s one any of us really want to talk about,” Poches said.

While most in the audience Monday supported the rural schools, others pointed the finger back at them.

“The problem can’t be solved through name calling, and I’m going to make the point right now that those who’ve turned this into a session should be ashamed of themselves,” said one resident.

Board members listened to the comments and some, such as Miller-Hayes, hoped that board members would change their minds.

“I’m probably 50 percent hope and 50 percent saddened that the conclusion will be the one we don’t want,” Miller-Hayes said.

No decisions are coming out of Monday’s meeting. The decision on whether to close the schools is still a few weeks off.

Board members mostly listened Monday, so there wasn’t a clear sense of whether they had made their minds up either way.