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Elmbrook Could Close Two Schools, Analysis Shows

Hillside and Tonawanda Elementary schools continue to weigh heavily in potential school closure debate.

The Elmbrook School District could close two of its six elementary schools, save about $2.6 million per year and still have enough building space to educate its projected 10-year resident enrollment plus some open enrollment students, a new report says.

But the report emphasized its authors were not making a recommendation that Elmbrook close two elementary schools.

Rather, the report says its goal is "to establish a cost baseline defined by the minimum elementary school building capacity required to educate resident only Elmbrook students."

Elmbrook needs to operate a minimum of four elementary schools to serve its future enrollment, the report says. 

"It was concluded that a four-school configuration providing a 19 'section' capability would be adequate," it states. 

The School Board will discuss the report's findings and school closure issues at a work session open to the public. The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the district administration offices, 13780 Hope St.

Declining enrollment, excess school space and five-year deficits have prompted the School Board to consider closing one or more schools.

A year ago, and elementary schools — the district's smallest buildings — were debated for possible closure, drawing vocal opposition from those schools' families, particularly in Elm Grove.

Tonawanda is the only Elmbrook elementary school in Elm Grove; the rest are in Brookfield. Families rallied for a neighborhood school to which their children can walk.

The latest report shows Tonawanda and Hillside remain the most likely targets for school closure.

In fact, the only schools not considered in the report for closure were and , Elmbrook's two largest elementary schools. (see page 5A of the board's report).

Two options in which either or elementary school would be closed — or both — were less favorable because they would result in fewer available classrooms and tighter building capacity if the district continues to accept students through the state's open enrollment program.

The report was prepared by the five-member "Base Case Team," comprised of Keith Brightman, assistant superintendent of finance and operations; Christine Hedstrom, assistant superintendent for human resources (before she to join the Waukesha School District); Glen Allgaier, School Board member; Jana Pagel, elementary school parent; and Jerry Theder, retired business executive.

After crunching considerable numbers, the Base Case Team concluded the average cost of keeping an elementary school open (or the savings to close it) is about $1.3 million a year.

Accepting open enrollment students nets Elmbrook about $1,000 per student, according to the report.

Excess school space

During the most recent 2010-'11 school year, about 29 percent of the total space in the district's six elementary schools was not used, the report found.

Elmbrook had 2,800 elementary school students last year — 2,478 who live in Elmbrook's boundary and 322 who enroll from other communities through the state's open enrollment and Chapter 220 programs.

That equates to about 12 percent "non-resident" enrollment, or students who reside outside the district's boundaries of Brookfield, Elm Grove and small parts of the Town of Brookfield and New Berlin.

The six schools could support a maximum enrollment of 3,950 students, compared to the current 2,800.

The six schools have a total of 150 classrooms, enough to provide 25 district "sections" or classes for each grade level from kindergarten through 5th grade.

Elmbrook's enrollment supports a minimum of 114 total classrooms or 19 "sections" per grade level, the report says.

So which schools are needed to provide those 114 rooms and 19 sections? Or conversely, where could Elmbrook cut 36 rooms or six sections? 

The report includes five scenerios, including keeping all six schools open, and the resulting impact on rooms and space utilitization. None of the scenerios would close Burleigh or Swanson. Only three of the five options meet the minimum 114 rooms and 19 sections the report says Elmbrook needs:

Closing Dixon and Brookfield elementary: Provides 102 rooms and 17 sections. Could not support current or future non-resident enrollment. 

Closing either Dixon or Brookfield and either Hillside or Tonawanda: Provides 108 rooms and 18 sections. Would be slightly over capacity, under maximum projected enrollments, if non-resident students are included.

Closing Hillside and Tonawanda: Provides 114 rooms and 19 sections. Meets capacity with excess (unused) space.

Closing Hillside or Tonawanda (not both): Provides 132 rooms and 22 sections. Meets capacity with greater excess space.

Keeping all six schools open: Provides 150 rooms and 25 sections. Meets capacity, leaving the most excess space. 

Here are the sections and rooms currently available in each elementary school, according to the report:

Maximum Capacity School "Sections" Classrooms Students Burleigh 6 36 948 Swanson 5 30 790 Brookfield 4 24 632 Dixon 4 24 632 Hillside 3 18 474 Tonawanda 3 18 474 Total 25 150 3950 Source: Elmbrook Elementary School "Base Case" Report

The report notes that the calculations did not take into account four-year-old kindergarten, which Elmbrook currently does not offer. 

However, Elmbrook would have enough room to add 4K as long as it operates at least four elementary schools, the report says.

CommunityVolunteer August 09, 2011 at 07:30 PM
I guess I am a little surprised that the report even considered closing Brook El and Dixon given these were the schools recently rebuilt and likely not even paid off yet. One thing that is for sure is that for every additional year we continue discussion on this topic, $1.3 million LESS is available to support instruction and programs in future years for all Elmbrook students.
Kirsten Lee August 09, 2011 at 08:38 PM
I realize Hillside and Tonawanda parents do not want to hear this but Close Both Schools! Yes, your children have enjoyed a smaller school and smaller class numbers for years but we cannot afford to continue this forever. To keep all the elementary schools open we will need to cut teachers and increase class size. I do not want class size increased in the other elementary schools, middle schools and high schools just to keep Hillside and Tonawanda open. Let's make a decision now and move on. Our family lived through this in another district and my daughter adjusted very well. Parents the bigger deal you make of this, the harder it will be for your child.
Todd Gaack August 10, 2011 at 12:13 AM
This is insanity. Swanson is off the table? It's in the middle of one of the largest commercial districts in the State of Wisconsin. It's got to be worth at least $10 million. The School Board has a fiduciary responsibility to its residents, doesn't it? Given the District's fiscal situation, not considering the closing of Swanson is tantamount to misconduct in public office.
Concerned Citizen August 10, 2011 at 03:33 PM
I was also surprised to hear any mention of Dixon & Brookfield El, since they are practically brand new and we are still paying a property tax premium for that construction. Close the oldest schools first. I don't want to pay for more capacity than absolutely necessary. If some parents don't like it, look at Arrowhead or Mequon school districts--how many of their schools are " within walking distance?"
Michael webber August 22, 2011 at 04:04 AM
80% of Brookfield and Elm Grove residents were born before the start of WWII. As these residents relocate to lower maintenance properties in the next 5 to 10 years an influx of new families will fill these subdivisions and are going to be forced to build new grade schools at premium If this myopic board has it's way.

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