PROPHETSTOWN – Tampico Elementary School is “a valuable asset,” and closing it would harm the community, Mayor Kristine Hill told members of the Prophetstown-Lyndon-Tampico school board.
The cash-strapped district, which is struggling to keep afloat, is considering closing the elementary school in either Tampico or Prophetstown by 2021. It also is considering consolidating grades by turning schools into attendance centers, and seeking tax hikes.
Hill cited studies that show 60% of communities with schools saw population growth from 1990-2000, while only 6% without schools grew. In addition, average home values in communities with schools are 25% higher than towns without, she said.
“With these facts, if you close the Tampico school, it’s a matter of time before the property values decrease, resulting in lower available revenues” and a continued decline in enrollment, she said at Monday’s school board meeting.
“School closures reduce the fiscal capacity of local communities to provide support for education.”
Tampico, the population of which has dropped from 833 in 1990 to 750 in 2016, had two schools until 6 years ago.
The former elementary school now is the village hall and police station. The current school was a middle school, and, until 1996, home to Tampico High School. The original wing of the former high school was razed in 2012 and a new wing took its place.
The gym and several classrooms in Tampico, designed for large high school classes, would better accommodate older students, while smaller facilities at Prophetstown Elementary would be best for smaller kids, she said.
That would dovetail with the attendance center idea, which, starting in 2020-21, would move pre-K through first grade to Prophetstown, second through fifth grade to Tampico, and save money because of a loss of staff.
Prophetstown now houses pre-K through third grade, Tampico kindergarten through fifth grade.
One concern with a move to attendance centers is the number of transitions to different schools that some students would face.
Jennifer Malone of Prophetstown has a daughter who is set to attend forth grade in August at Tampico. She does not want to experience the possibility of having her attend three different schools in 3 years, which would be the case if either school were to close and fifth-grade classes were moved to PLT Middle School in Prophetstown.
Malone asked the board to see if the incoming fourth-grade class consisting of former Prophetstown students can stay there for 1 more year, until it comes up with a decision on which direction – attendance centers, closures or seeking tax hikes – it chooses to go. It also would save the cost of a bus, she said.
“We are doing a disservice to those children, because we cannot make a decision,” she said. “I’m tired of not knowing what to tell my children where they’ll be going to school.”
Board members want to consult with the elementary principals before making any decision.
“We have to stop this,” Malone said. “This is why everyone is getting so frustrated.”
Officials presented eight possible options the district could take at a town hall meeting earlier this month; those options are being narrowed in the coming months, Board President James Melton said.
The uncertainty of the district’s future has kept at least one business from moving to the district, Mike Sigel of Tampico said.
“Momentum builds going up and down,” Sigel said. “If you get people on a bandwagon going a good direction, more people will get right on that. Also, what we’ve seen is that when you lose hope and faith in what’s going on, people get on that bandwagon, too, and follow it down.”
Sigel has a nephew who considered moving to the district from Vallejo, California, but changed his mind.
“His business could have been right next door to any of ours,” Sigel said. “He said, ‘With the way things happened before, and from what I’ve seen, I’m moving to South Carolina.’
“It’s more than just children. They will grow up, and they will leave if they don’t feel confident in what we do as adults.”
Eight options for PLT's future
1. Attendance centers: Would begin in 2020-21. Moves pre-K through first grade to Prophetstown Elementary, and second through fifth grade to Tampico Elementary. Would save money because of a loss of staff.
2. Close Tampico, move pre-K to fourth grade to Prophetstown, and fifth grade to PLT Middle School in Prophetstown.
3. Close Tampico, move pre-K to the PLT district office in Prophetstown, kindergarten through fourth grade to Prophetstown, and fifth grade to PLT Middle School.
4. Close Prophetstown, move pre-K to the PLT district office, kindergarten through fourth grade to Tampico, and fifth grade to PLT Middle School.
5. Close Tampico, build new classrooms at Prophetstown, move fifth grade to PLT Middle School.
6. Close Prophetstown, build new classrooms at Tampico, move fifth grade to PLT Middle School.
7. Put a referendum on the April ballot to increase property taxes by $0.37 per EAV, which would raise $377,400 for staff salaries; taxes would increased by $129.50 a year for a $100,000 home.
8. Put a referendum on the April ballot to increase property taxes by $0.23 per EAV, for a total of $234,600, and include the attendance center option as presented; taxes would increase by $80.50 a year for a $100,000 home.
The Prophetstown-Lyndon-Tampico school board next meets at 6:30 p.m. July 29 at the district office, 79 Grove Street.
Go to plt3.org, or call 815-537-5101 for an agenda or more information.