NEWS BRIEF: District Votes to Close Two Elementary Schools

After a lengthy meeting, the USD 497 Board of Education reached a decision regarding school closures.

Natasha Torkzaban and Lilly Wall

The USD 497 Board of Education voted to close Pinckney and Broken Arrow Elementary on Monday in an attempt to bridge the $9.6 million budget deficit. 

Despite two public hearings at Broken Arrow and Pinckney hosted on March 25, community members still showed up to show their support. The narrow 4-3 vote came after a five-hour meeting filled with concerned families and staff who pleaded with the board against the closings.

Through these decisions, board members emphasized the intensity of the decision-making process. Many said they felt burdened by the potency of the factors taken into account.

“I want to acknowledge that [this] vote will have serious consequences for teachers and students, and I apologize for that component of it,” board member Kelly Jones said. “It was certainly one of the harder votes I’ve made. It’s hard sitting up here when two things are true at the same time.”

The school closures are part of a budget cut package estimated to save $4 million proposed by the Futures Planning Committee. This package previously included closing/repurposing Woodlawn Elementary before the motion failed 3-4 to advance to public hearings.

The board stressed concerns about transportation costs and the isolation of students near Woodlawn that are across the Kansas river. 

With the closing of two schools, many families expressed how methods of transportation and student/family support services may be sacrificed. 

“Pinckney was a great support for me and my family,” Tamara Coyle, Pinckney parent, said. “We were homeless for about a year and a half, but I don’t consider us homeless for that time because of what Pinckney had done for us.”

Additionally, many parents conveyed concerns about what the school closures would look like for minorities.

“It has been said that people are more important than buildings, I agree,” Anne Costello, Futures Planning Committee member, said. “But when centering on the people, closing these schools is not an equitable choice. It’s not just buildings being closed, but some of our more vulnerable communities are being broken apart.”

The board will meet again on April 10 to discuss the next steps. This includes finalizing district boundaries, creating bus routes and constructing a smooth plan for families who will face new schools in the fall. 

Through these difficult decisions, Superintendent Anthony Lewis said that although these times appear hopeless, he wishes to provide a sense of hope to the families.

“Sometimes the most difficult decisions come with the greatest opportunities,” Lewis said. “Although dark it may seem, there is shining light on the other side.”