Elmbrook School Board Recommends Closing Hillside Elementary

Tonawanda in Elm Grove would remain open under a recommendation the Board will take to two community meetings to get feedback before final vote in October.

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.

Kirsten Lee September 14, 2011 at 10:05 PM
The district needs to close schools because they have a budget shortfall. The Elmbrook elementary schools are nowhere near capacity. Pewaukee has centralized their district and it saves money. I think both Tonawanda and Hillside should be closed. The board has volumes of information, Jean Lambert. It is not time for more suggestions, Bob Ziegler. Tom Gehl said at the work session that he would have supported closing two schools if over 100 open enrollment seats would not have been added this year. And yet, Glen Alligaier stated that adding only 1 child to each section for give the district another 100 seats. It is totally possible to close both schools and add 4K. If we can add 4K to the other 4 schools, there is enough room for our current resident and non-resident students. Just don't add any more non-resident students.
Concerned Citizen September 14, 2011 at 10:58 PM
You are assuming that the only home buyers out there have school age children, when in fact, 2/3 of the property owners in the City of Brookfield have no kids in school. Our subdivision of 26 homes saw 3 sales this year, none to people with kids or who are likely to have them (given their ages and family composition.) When we bought in Brookfield, we had no kids so didn't concern ourselves with the schools. We bought due to age of the home, location vis a vis jobs, good government and affordable property taxes. However, the property tax rate has risen pretty dramatically to the point where the City of Brookfield is one of the top 5 taxed municipalities in Waukesha County. That rise has been driven by Elmbrook School district spending, primarily on rebuilding quite a few schools over the past 10 years. We will be paying for that building spree for a long, long time.
JB September 15, 2011 at 01:12 AM
Interesting perspectives, thanks for the comments. Our kids are grown now, but my experience has been that good school districts are hard to come by, and with them come good residents and a good community. It also means that when you want to sell your house, you'll have buyers, both with and without kids (as opposed to just without). Most people when they are buying a home consider how good an investment it will be and how attractive it will be to eventually sell it, and a good school is a huge part of this unless you are talking about areas where the homes are small (less than 3 bedrooms), which I am not sure we are in Brookfield. I'm sorry that there is a budget shortfall, but think it is wise to try to find something to cut that won't end up costing us more in the long run when we end up selling. Closing good schools suddenly makes our suburb a lot less differentiated than a lot of the other ones nearby.
kiwimoy September 17, 2011 at 01:28 AM
Get rid of all non-resident students before closing a school that will greatly affect the tax-paying resident students . . . . I know, I know these non-resident students have become Gibson's cash cow.
Susan C September 19, 2011 at 02:18 AM
Not surprised. Hillside sould be the choice over Tonawanda. Losing Tonawanda would be a bigger community impact because it's the only elementary school in Elm Grove. Losing Hillside is less of an impact because Hillside homes are within 1 to 1.5 miles of Brook El which is a newer school their tax dollars paid for. And all kids are bussed anyway, even if you live next to the school. So, bussing isn't an issue. And all schools will still be a "neighborhood school". All that happened is that the "neighborhood" expanded. Your kids and the kids in your immediate neighborhood still go to the same school. Just a few more kids are added. The right decision was made.


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