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May 9, 2013

Gorin R-III to Consider Closing Following 2014-15 School Year

Patrons of the Gorin R-III School District would rather see words on the chalkboard instead of this handwriting on the wall, but declining enrollment has foretold the need for the district to consider its future.

That decision will ultimately be made by the Gorin R-III Board of Education, but the administrative board is hoping to involve the community through a series of public meetings. The first such meeting will be held Tuesday, May 14th at 6:30 p.m. at the Gorin High School Gym.

"I think our board is wanting to be proactive instead of reactive," said Gorin R-III Principal Tina Townsend. "They want to maintain local control of this decision and not wait until action is forced by DESE (the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education)."

The board has been reviewing declining enrollment numbers along with projected enrollments for future classes. With a pessimistic forecast in the latter category, the board agreed at the April 16th meeting to begin public discussion of the possibility of closing the district at the completion of the 2014-15 school year.

Townsend stated the district currently has 22 students enrolled in K-8th grades. Preschool numbers expanded that enrollment figure to 27 total students. The district also currently pays tuition for seven high school students attending the Scotland County R-I school system.

"While we believe the state would allow us to continue to operate with an enrollment as little as 15, the board has begun to ask the question, at what point does it become counterproductive to keep the doors open," Townsend stated.

That point appears to be the 2015-16 school year. Currently the prescreening efforts have identified zero prospective students that would be entering school that year. Those screenings project only one kindergarten age student for the 2014-15 year.

Townsend also highlighted demographics playing a role in the decision making process.

"With limited available housing and employment opportunities within the district, the prospects of new students moving in are not very good either," Townsend stated.

The district is also faced with lagging test scores that in 2012 forced the district into provisional accreditation status with DESE. On September 18, 2012 the Missouri State Board of Education unanimously voted 7-0 to reclassify the Gorin R-III and Spickard R-II school districts from accredited to provisionally accredited. K-8 districts must meet five out of seven state standards for full accreditation, four for provisional classification and three or less for unaccredited classification.

A provisionally accredited district is still considered to be accredited.

According to DESE, Gorin is one of 11 districts in the state under such status. 506 school districts are fully accredited and three districts are unaccredited.

Based on state law, the Missouri Board of Education classifies (accredits) public school districts. Under the standards of the Missouri School Improvement Program (MSIP), a school district may be given one of three ratings: accredited, provisionally accredited, or unaccredited.

Townsend stated that the district diligently strives to meet state standards, and efforts are underway to returned to fully accredited status, something the district has accomplished before.

The district has taken a similar positive approach to maintaining financial solvency.

"We have done our best to cut costs where we can to maintain a positive financial outlook for the district," Townsend stated. "We have a staff member that is leaving the district at the conclusion of the school year, and the board has decided not to fill the vacancy as a cost saving effort."

That bodes well for whatever neighboring district ultimately would annex the Gorin region.

"The annexation process is definitely something we will be trying to explain to district patrons during the public meeting process," Townsend stated.

With the entire district lying in Scotland County, the SCR-I School District is the natural destination for an annexation.

"We can legally annex to any school district, but since we are physically located in Scotland County, that is the most logical choice," Townsend stated.

According to Kyle Farmer, staff attorney for the Missouri State Teachers Association, the issue of annexation ultimately falls to the voters of the district to be annexed.

"If a majority vote in favor of annexation, the question of annexation proceeds to the receiving district," he stated. "The district that will be annexed must provide notice of the affirmative vote to the receiving school district's board. The receiving district must then meet in a reasonable time to 'consider the advisability of receiving the district'. A simple majority vote of the receiving school district's school board in favor of annexation completes the process."

If the Gorin R-III board agrees to move forward with the plan to close the district, the school property and holdings would ultimately be auctioned with all proceeds as well as all existing financial assets going to the district that annexes Gorin R-III.

But that will not occur until after the completion of the 2014-15 school year.

"We felt like it is in the best interest of our students, our employees and our community to announce the proposed plan well in advance," Townsend said.

The extended time frame allows more flexibility for the district's 13 full and part-time employees as well as the district's 22 current students.

The district closed it's high school following the graduation of the Class of 1982.

Townsend, who has served as principal the past seven years, has been with the district the past 21 years.

"When I started in 1992, we had 60 to 65 students," she said. "Those numbers have slowly trickled off over the years making this move inevitable."

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