Michael D. Clark reports:
School officials here met late into the evening Monday discussing and debating details on a merger of two schools.
The Mason Board of Education went into executive session for more than three hours as the board considered layoffs from combining Western Row and Mason Heights elementaries next school year. The board took no action but announced late Monday it will vote on the proposed merger at its regular public meeting on Feb. 14.
“The plan has shifted and changed a bit,” said Superintendent Gail Kist-Kline, who presented the idea to the board last month. “There is an educational impact here, a community impact and a financial impact. This is an important decision, and we want to thoughtfully weigh it.”
About 1,600 students and their families at the two schools could be impacted by the proposed merger, which would leave one of the schools closed and could move one or more elementary grades to the Mason Early Childhood Center.
Kist-Kline told the board that an online survey of parents at the school was initiated last month when the merger idea was unveiled. So far it has garnered more than 1,400 responses to the open-ended questions soliciting opinions about a merger.
Both schools have excess capacity. Combining them would save the Warren County district an estimated $600,000 annually from its $100 million operating budget.
Both buildings also are in need of repairs. The older Western Row needs an estimated $2.5 million work, and Mason Heights needs about $1.4 million.
The two schools, which house the district’s second and third grades, already share a single principal.
Among the factors the board is pondering are whether there would be advantages to keeping Western Row open because it is more centrally located in the 25-square-mile district and whether a road separating the annex building on Mason Heights’ campus would allow for safe student pedestrian traffic.
Western Row, built in 1962, is slightly older. Mason Heights opened in 1967. Both have had additional wings added in the subsequent decades.
School board President Kevin Wise said “there are a lot of variables.”