Discussions on school reconfiguration, Fort Craig closing bring high emotions at Maryville

Closing an elementary school and reconfiguring grades in a system are emotional issues. Maryville City Manager Greg McClain addressed both before a packed auditorium at Maryville High School Tuesday night.

McClain spoke during a joint meeting of the Maryville City School Board and Maryville City Council. “I’ve received a lot of phone calls, emails and personal visits,” McClain said. “These are emotionally-charged issues, and your comments have not fallen on deaf ears or cold hearts,” he said.

School officials estimate they would need $1.5 million to open Coulter Grove Intermediate and keep Fort Craig open. If Fort Craig were closed, almost $800,000 would be needed to open Coulter Grove Intermediate. It works out to a 21-cent property tax increase if trying to generate $1.5 million, and an 11-cent property tax increase for the alternative..

Either way, money has to be found somewhere, and raising taxes was the thing McClain said the city is most reluctant to do, even if individual homeowners were willing to accept the cost. “City council truly has a responsibility to everybody to respectfully hear issues from every group,” he said. “Don’t lose sight of who pays the majority of freight in this community. It’s the businesses. A minor increase to you is a serious one to businesses and that is where jobs come from. We have to make sure we don’t wreck the ship in the process of making a correction.”

Coulter Grove was built with a low-interest loan the city won through the Federal Recovery Act. Finding the money to open the school in the fall of 2012, however, is up to the school board.

Most of the more than 200 residents who attended the meeting Tuesday night spoke in favor of keeping the school.

Abby Koela Pickle said she is a Fort Craig alumni who moved back to Maryville with her husband so their 2-year-old son could one day attend the school. “It is a jewel. Closing Fort Craig does not solve the budget deficit. It will only overcrowd the other schools,” Pickle said.”

Susan Roseman said she and her family moved to Maryville in 1998 in part because she and her husband were older parents, and they were impressed with Fort Craig. She said that in the past few years, she has been baffled by the board’s decisions. “I challenge you to work smarter,” she said of how to keep Fort Craig open.

Nancy Peterson was on the Maryville City School Board when the Fort Craig School of Dynamic Learning was created in 1994, and she had this message for board members Tuesday night.

“I really hate to see you close it. I’m sympathetic with the fiscal issues. I hate to see you close it, because I think your problem is the high school,” she said. “We’re moving everything back to accommodate the high school.”

Maryville City School Board chair Christi Sayles said everyone on the board has or has had children in the school system. “This is not an easy process for us or city council,” she said. “This is a very difficult time, and we’re doing our best to meander through it.”

The Maryville City School Board will meet in a work session at 7:45 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 1, in the Gary Hensley Room at the Maryville Municipal Building. They will hear a special task force report on plans to reconfigure the intermediate level grades. The school board has a choice between having two 4-7 grade schools or one 4-5 grade school and one 6-7 grade school.

At 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 22, the Maryville City School Board will meet in their regularly scheduled session at the Maryville High School auditorium where they’ll possibly be voting on the grade reconfiguration and closing Fort Craig School.

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