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RUSD SCHOOL CLOSINGS

Two Racine elementary schools to close at end of school year

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RACINE — Janes and Dr. Jones elementary schools will be closed at the end of the current school year as the Racine Unified School District pivots its long-range plans due to the ongoing Wisconsin Supreme Court battle tied to the $1 billion referendum approved in April 2020.

RUSD’s leadership reorganized its plans to accommodate the district’s finances still hanging in the balance even after it appeared the $1 billion referendum passed by five votes after the initial vote and was confirmed by recount in May 2020 to have passed by four votes.

While the district had originally planned to close Roosevelt Elementary School next and move those students to Jerstad-Agerholm Middle School, that project required renovations to Jerstad. That project requires funding that the district currently cannot use until the fate of the referendum has been decided.

The state Supreme Court is estimated to take until March to render its final decision on the election dispute, with the delay costing an estimated $60 million, according to RUSD Director of Facilities James Hooper.

The referendum’s results have been questioned by a local group, H.O.T. Government, and the group’s attorney argued in front of the Supreme Court last week that members of the group have the right to review the ballots in open court — an assertion an attorney representing RUSD disputes.

The issues with funding and the declining enrollment at Janes and Dr. Jones made the two schools next in line as the district attempts to make progress while still being stalled. Students from Dr. Jones will be moved to Mitchell and S.C. Johnson schools while students at Janes will be moved to Julian Thomas and West Ridge for the 2021-22 school year.

Last summer, after the referendum was approved initially by voters and was apparently confirmed by a recount, the district closed Giese and North Park elementary schools.

RUSD Superintendent Dr. Eric Gallien

Gallien

“So, those are the first pieces of the domino. Dr. Jones got moved up,” RUSD Superintendent Dr. Eric Gallien said during Monday’s board meeting. “As you recall, the original plan was that (the closure of) Dr. Jones wouldn’t happen (so soon) — we were projected to (close Dr. Jones) three or four years later. But the new enrollment data and other data suggested it’s probably better if we just go ahead and do it now and move forward with that project, since enrollment is decreasing every year.”

No vote was needed by the board to approve the new plan, since the closure of the schools was already approved when the board backed the referendum.

What students will go to which schools?

Board members raised concerns regarding a possible dramatic shift in demographics for the students as well as bus ride times. Students moving between schools, according to Gallien, will not experience a major shift in demographics or bus ride length.

Moving forward, should the referendum’s passage officially be confirmed, Jerstad renovations would be next on the docket, according to Stacy Tapp, RUSD spokesperson. Once completed, Roosevelt would be closed with those students transitioning to Jerstad; though some students may be moved to other campuses, according to Tapp, pending an updated demographics study.

Along with the school closures came proposed boundary changes, which the board of education will be voting on at their next meeting on Dec. 20. Affected families will be getting priority access to the school choice process from Dec. 1 to Jan. 15, according to Gallien.

This brought little comfort to the lone parent in attendance. As a mother of two Dr. Jones students, Tamara Patton said parents received an email informing them of the change at 4:45 p.m., less than two hours before the meting.

“I cannot tell you how frustrating this is as a parent to have gotten this email at 4:45 tonight and clearly, I am the only parent here,” she said. “I feel like parents weren’t even given a chance to hear what was going on to know about the boundary.”

Correction: This story previously misstated which schools the students would be moving to, respectively. It is now correct.

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