West Branch thinking about consolidating schools to save money

Local News

The district has been dealing with declining enrollment and several failed levies for the past decade

BELOIT, Ohio (WKBN) – The West Branch School system is dealing with declining enrollment and less money. School administrators talked to parents Tuesday to let them know changes would be coming.

West Branch Schools cover a large area of southwest Mahoning and northeast Columbiana counties but fewer students and several failed levies have forced the district into some tough decisions.

Some parents are concerned about the effects those decisions will have on their children.

Tuesday’s public forum on the future of the school district covered the possible closure of two schools — Knox Elementary and Damascus Elementary.

Changes are being made because the district has been losing money for most of the last decade.

“The district has been in that deficit spending mode over the course of the last 10 years and over the course of those 10 years, we have dropped by 495 students,” Superintendent Timothy Saxton said.

The district failed to pass eight operating levies over the last 20 years and with a declining population, the school board decided to cut costs rather than look for more revenue.

“The decision not to put it back on the ballot resulted in the board directing me to develop and present options for district consolidation,” Saxton said.

That means closing some school buildings.

Some parents are worried about overcrowding and younger students being in the same building as older kids.

“A second grader, a first grader and a kindergartener is all they’ve seen,” one father said. “They were completely sectioned off, including the cafeteria and gymnasium. So how are you going to do that here?”

Others are concerned students will be losing a favorite learning environment close to home.

“Mr. Graham and the teachers there are the absolute, most amazing people you have ever met,” a mother said. “You walk into that school and there’s nothing but happiness and love for your kids there.”

Most at Tuesday’s forum understood the district is in a tough spot and hope the entire community can come together in support of the school board.

“West Branch has the greatest and most hardworking staff, parents and community, and we now have to work together to grow this district,” another parent said.

The West Branch School Board will take the public input from this forum into consideration for the final consolidation plan.

The board plans to finalize its decision and implement the plan within 30 days so changes can be made for the next school year.

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