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Columbus Board Votes To Close Schools

The Columbus School Board voted to close five schools at the end of the current school year. The decision will save the district money. but, it was made after several pleas to spare two of the schools. After more than two hours of discussion and some tearful pleas from parents and teachers, the Columbus school board voted to close Brookhaven High, Monroe Middle, and three elementary schools at the end of the current school year. The unanimous vote effects 1645 students. Brookhaven senior Netronne Backus struggled for words after learning he would be among the last class to graduate from the school.

"I don't know to say of my reaction. I don't think it's fair for all the other students that have to graduate. Of the athletics, the grades were getting better. I don't think it's fair at all," says Backus.

Brookhaven students will be assigned to Mifflin High School just south of Easton. Parent Stacey Noriega asked the board to spare Maybury elementary. She praised the staff at the school for understanding the needs of her medically fragile child. "My son's had three open heart surgeries and two airway surgeries. I know that other parents of medically fragile children, or special needs children understand what I'm saying and I really hope you guys do too. Please keep Maybury open so we don't have to hope another school will understand," says Noriega. With the closing of Maybury, Noriega says her child can no longer walk to school. Board member Michael Cole moved to spare Maybury but the motion failed on a 5 to 2 vote. The decision to close schools comes after a tumultuous year and a half for the district. It is still feeling lingering effects of a grade and attendance data scrubbing scandal that prompted a mayor's commission that recommended reforms. But, district voters soundly rejected increased taxes to fund the reforms. Tuesday night's vote shaves about $10 millions from the district's projected $50 million budget deficit. Board president Gary Baker says it's uncertain how many teachers, administrators, and other staff will be cut after the five schools close. "That has not yet been determined. The team will continue the process. That will be determined based on tonight's vote. It couldn't really take any official action until the board had taken its action," says Baker. Superintendent Dan Good says administrators will now begin work with staff, parents and students in the closed schools to make what he says will be an 'emotional transition.' he says the early March vote was necessary to give parents a chance to participate in school choice programs for next school year. "It's a very emotional response as it would be for anyone that's leaving something where they're comfortable and feel supported to go to a new place. Our real challenge begins now to focus on that transition and how to introduce them, integrate them and ultimately support them in that new setting," says Good. The district will have to make more budget cuts to balance it's books and Superintendent Good says administrators will look at all programs that exceed state minimum standards for possible cuts. Board president Baker says the timing of a future tax levy request is now under discussion.