With difficulty getting board majority support, the Elmbrook School Board recommended Tuesday that the district close one elementary school at the end of the year — .
Board members will ask community members at two upcoming meetings to offer feedback on closing Hillside before members vote on any school closure in late October. Those meetings are scheduled for 7 p.m. Sept. 29 at and 7 p.m. Oct. 4 at .
The recommendation would save in Elm Grove from closure. But two board members supported closing it and one warned if enrollment continued to decline and budget pressures persist, it could be closed in the future.
Tuesday's meeting was packed with an audience that had to sit and stand alongside the wall, after there weren't enough chairs. Many wore orange "Save Tonawanda" and red "Save Hillside" shirts.
Superintendent Matt Gibson said he didn't enjoy making the recommendation but felt it was needed to keep Elmbrook a top-notch school district that wouldn't be forced to cut programs and raise class sizes.
The district is facing a projected five-year budget deficit of $8.7 million, down from the $11.4 million projected last year. Closing a smaller elementary school like Hillside or Tonawanda would save about $1.3 million a year, not enough to erase the district's annual deficit.
But Gibson said he preferred that to "death by a thousand cuts."
School Board members Tom Gehl and Glen Allgaier said the district shouldn't operate six elementary schools when enrollment doesn't support it and about 30 percent of the buildings are not being used.
But others, including Elm Grove Village President Neil Palmer, argued that the budget gaps were not wide enough to make such a drastic and irreversible move as closing a school.
Some pointed to the district's large reserves and frequent annual surpluses, which have been funneled into capital improvements and debt management.
Board members Gehl, Meg Wartman and Kathryn Wilson supported closing just Hillside. Board members Glen Allgaier and Dick Brunner supported closing both Hillside and Tonawanda, but both men agreed to take the recommendation to just close Hillside to the community meetings.
Board member Jean Lambert said she was concerned that logistically, closing Tonawanda might make more sense for the district, causing fewer redistricting problems. She said she needed more information on concerns, including whether Dixon Elementary would end up with about 30 percent enrollment of nonresidents, before she could back a recommendation.
Board member Bob Ziegler said he continued to believe there were other, better budget solutions than losing an elementary school and urged community members to come forward with ideas.