Schools: Consolidations, closures are necessary

The can that has been kicked down the road by Wood County Boards of Education for more than a decade has finally landed at the feet of the current board. Though that board still includes two of the folks who did some of the kicking, it MUST make some truly difficult decisions — and then act on them.

Without action, the school system will run out of money in less than two years. Unnecessary schools have been kept open for many years too long, and too many employees have been bumped up to contracts that push them above the number of days or give them shiny new titles that place them outside the state school funding formula. Meanwhile, Wood County Schools has lost more than 1,300 students in the past seven years — 476 of them since 2017.

What brought the current sense of urgency was the combination of that loss of students (and the state per-pupil funding that goes with them) and across-the-board pay raises approved by or still being considered by the Legislature. There are approximately 1,600 employees in the school district; 420 of them have contracts for more than the state-funded 200 days or are in positions not funded by the state. Even after reductions in force, those people will cost Wood County Schools at least $2.1 million per year.

Administrators and board members may want the public to believe this is a “perfect storm,” creeping up on them rather suddenly. It is not.

Closing Worthington and Waverly elementary schools when they said they would might have bought enough time, and set a precedent for the necessary closure of at least three other schools, to avoid the problem. No board and administration to this point has had the guts to do what needed to be done.

Superintendent Will Hosaflook said consolidating schools and closing building is the only way to avoid a financial failure that could result in a takeover by the state.

“This is something we can do right now,” he said. “We can deal with this situation right now.”

He and the board of education must. Most of them appear to understand that, though board member Rick Tennant — who was among those voting against the closure of Waverly when it should have been done the first time — still seems to be having difficulty understanding the gravity of the situation.

“I know we’ve got to right-size because of declining enrollment, and we do have some old buildings,” he said. “I know sometime soon we’re going to have to talk about the (Comprehensive Education Facilities Plan).”

We are past all that. There isn’t any time left for a wait-and-see approach.

There will be public hearings on the matter, of course. Ladies and gentlemen, please, do not attend these meetings in an attempt to cling to outdated buildings that are not serving our children well. Attend in an effort to truly help the school board and administration develop a plan that includes the necessary closures and cost cuts in a way that will provide the kind of education our kids deserve.

Wood County’s children should be able to rely on the adults in their lives to behave as such, and do what needs to be done.