Dissenting opinion

GWINN – While the crowd inside K.I. Sawyer Elementary School shouted at the board to reconsider, another round of cuts was made during the Gwinn school board meeting Monday night, eliminating the equivalent of roughly 10 jobs within the district.

After a heated debate that included in-fighting among the board and administration – as well as cries from the crowd to reconsider closing Gilbert Elementary School – the board voted 5 to 1 to make the following cuts:

– one administrative position

– four elementary teaching positions

– one to two full-time equivalent high school teaching positions

– move from a full-time to a part-time counselor position

– two paraprofessional positions

– one athletic custodian position

– move from a full-time to a part-time secretarial position at elementary level

Trustee Bill Nordeen cast the lone dissenting vote Monday night.

Many of the cuts were the result of the board’s April decision to shutter Gilbert Elementary School and send all of the district’s elementary students to K.I. Sawyer Elementary School.

Nordeen has been very vocal about his displeasure with the board’s decision to close Gilbert – he cast the lone dissenting vote on that decision as well – and asked the board and administration several times to show him how closing Gilbert “saved one single dollar above” the finance committee’s original recommendation to close three quarters of K.I. Sawyer Elementary School and send the majority of the district’s elementary students to Gilbert.

The school’s closure has sparked outrage among some community members who contend they will pull their children from Gwinn schools if Gilbert remains closed next year.

“This board’s decision might very well be the end of this school district,” Nordeen said. “That’s what will be the legacy of this board – the end of the school district.”

Gwinn Superintendent Kim Tufnell defended the actions of the district, saying they made it widely known during budget discussions last year that the district was in dire financial straits, and that they have done what they can to prevent massive cuts.

However, Tufnell said with the vast majority of the district’s budget going toward personnel costs, there wasn’t much left to cut but jobs and buildings.

“To say that we haven’t done our due diligence is kind of frustrating because we have,” she said.

Members of the crowd – who broke out into applause several times – shouted out throughout the meeting, imploring the board to rescind its decision to close Gilbert.

“You’re going to kill this town,” one man yelled.

Several people who spoke during public comment said if the board kept Gilbert closed, it would see a mass exodus of students from the district.

And at roughly $7,000 in state funding per student, many people said it didn’t make financial sense to keep the school closed, saying the loss of students would far outweigh the budgetary gains made by closing Gilbert.

Some people said a total of 60 students were already being pulled from the Gwinn district because of the closure, and that many more were waiting for Monday’s meeting – to see what would happen with Gilbert – before pulling their kids.

“You’re looking at $800,000 (to cut),” said Leesa Misterly, spokesperson for the group behind a recent effort to recall four of the seven Gwinn board members. “You are looking for a whole lot more than that.”

Vice President Ruth Spade, who is not in good health, did not attend the meeting.