WARSAW — River View Local Schools is examining reconfiguration of its district, which could result in building consolidation.
The topic was discussed at a recent work session of the school board that included presentations from Curriculum Coordinator Christie Ireland and Transportation Director Joel Moore.
A 40 member reconfiguration committee comprised of district personnel, parents and community members will meet from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday, in the library of River View High School. Moderator is David Branch, former superintendent of Newcomerstown and Franklin Local schools. It will have three work sessions prior to community forums on Feb. 15 and 17 for public feedback. Times and locations of the forums are to be announced.
Superintendent Chuck Rinkes, who assumed his role earlier this year, said the committee will craft up to five scenarios for public feedback and for the school board to to review and possibly vote on at its March meeting. Along with picking a plan, the board would also need to establish a timeline to implement it, which could be as early as next school year.
While the district could remain the same as it is now, Rinkes doesn't feel that's practical or likely.
"We're living on a shoestring now. We're stretching every dollar that we can to provide the minimum services that we have with three elementaries, a junior high and high school," Rinkes said.
He said when he started with the district 25 years ago, enrollment was more than 3,000 students. Now, it's below 1,800 students with three of the buildings operating at about half capacity. With that, it doesn't make as much sense to have as many buildings as it once did.
"That enrollment loss mirrors the community. The loss in the number of plants, the loss in the number of blue-collar jobs," Rinkes said.
Warsaw Elementary has 450 kids, about half of the elementary students in the district. Conesville Elementary has 326 students, or 36%, and Keene Elementary has 129 students, or 14%. When River View was formed in 1965, the elementary schools were old high school buildings and some are more than 100 years old.
"For years, the neighborhood school concept for us in our district has worked and those buildings used to be full. They're not full anymore," Rinkes said. "Having a neighborhood school right up the road, or right down the road, or close to you is an emotional thing."
Enrollment at Keene went down last school year when open enrollment ended at the building, part of budget cuts and six teaching positions were cut. This was due to the district losing approximately $2.2 million in tax revenue from the closure of the American Electric Power plant in Conesville and two failed attempts at an income tax levy to replace the funding.
Enrollment at Keene is lower than what it was as Union Elementary when it closed in 2019, as a cost savings measure due to small enrollment. For this school year, Keene was kept open as the district didn't need to cut as much as once thought, and moving students could lead to overcrowding at other buildings.
Rinkes knows talk of reconfiguration will be met negatively by most, but the district has done it before and the situation at Union shows it can be done successfully. How consolidation might affect staffing levels and enrollment figures is yet to be determined.
Consolidation wouldn't just affect the elementary buildings, as the seventh and eighth grade students at the junior high could be moved into the high school. The junior high could then be used for lower grade levels. The junior high now has 277 students, but can hold 500. The high school has 506 students, minus students attending the Coshocton County Career Center, and can hold about 1,000.
"As a taxpayer, you want to know why we're not having the conversation of doing something when three out of your five buildings aren't even close to capacity at this point," Rinkes said. "We've tried to be good stewards of the tax money we have through our community and this is just another way of us doing that."
The junior high is the district's newest building, erected in 1980, and the high school was constructed in 1965. While a new building could come up in the committee meetings, Rinkes said the big issue there is funding.
"It's not completely out of the question, but once you start saying 'are you going to build a new building' and the answer is yes, the question right behind that is how are you going to pay for that," Rinkes said.
This article originally appeared on Coshocton Tribune: River View may close, consolidate school district buildings