COLLINSVILLE — School district officials are considering turning Twin Echo Elementary into an early childhood center to save money, but some parents are not convinced.
Unit 10 officials hired Edulog, a national consultant firm, to examine its transportation system and see where they could save money. Superintendent Robert Green said the district will soon run a deficit in its transportation costs due to state cutbacks; approximately $2 million a year has been lost in its education fund alone, he said. Statewide, districts have been cutting back to make up for state shortfalls in bus transportation reimbursements.
Edulog recommended two plans to save money. The first simply re-draws the boundary lines for each of Collinsville's schools, which would eliminate one bus route at a savings of $50,000.
The second proposal would convert Twin Echo into an early childhood center, consolidating 155 prekindergarten and 81 early childhood students currently scattered across four elementary schools. The current Twin Echo students would be sent to four other schools.
A public meeting on the plans will be held at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Collinsville High School auditorium. Presentations will be made by the transportation chief and Green, followed by public input.
Green said consolidating the early childhood classes into one place would be more efficient, and would free up space for the Twin Echo students. There wouldn't be space for them otherwise, he said.
"We're not creating a new school or program, we're taking an existing program and relocating it there," Green said. "I don't anticipate it will cost much of anything just to move the programs there."
However, by reassigning Twin Echo staff to fill positions vacated by resignation or retirement and by cost savings in busing, Green said Edulog estimated savings of $405,000 a year with the new plan.
"We asked them to look at every possible option, and they came up with two," Green said. "My recommendation to the board will be to take their time on this issue; closing a school is not a decision to enter into lightly."
Even so, parents have quickly mobilized with objections to the plan and they intend to speak at the special meeting Monday. A Facebook group titled "Save Twin Echo Elementary" had gained 114 members as of Saturday night. Twin Echo is at 1937 S. Morrison.
Twin Echo PTA President Lindsay Cerrano said she is concerned that the board is forging ahead without a solid plan. "All this is moving so quickly," she said. "Unfortunately it seems there's not a lot of forethought about the decisions being made. There's been no research into opening an early childhood center; they don't know about unforeseen costs and estimates."
Cerrano's son, Kai Cerrano, is a third grader with special needs. She said it has taken him a long time to be comfortable at school and now he is in a place where no one makes fun of him. If he is redistricted, she said, he would go to fourth grade at Renfro Elementary, where he doesn't know anyone. In the next year, he would go to Dorris Intermediate. She said it could be a "make or break" time for his education.
"The goal of Edulog was to avoid disrupting things for the children; right now it looks like more than 600 children will be affected," she said.
Parent Juliana Wright said she doesn't believe the cost savings will be as great as the district hopes. "We're not sure how it's going to add up," she said. "You're taking the staff out of the building ... but what is the cost to put in an early childhood center? I'm not really seeing the savings. Budget cuts need to happen, and everybody needs to look at that. But is this the appropriate way to do it? You're just moving money around."
Wright said she loves Twin Echo, and is happy that her child goes to a school where the principal knows every child and parent by name. "It's been amazing," she said.
Green said he understands the parents' concerns, and stressed that right now it is just a proposal. They've only had a short time to examine the proposal and they're just getting the conversation started, he said.
"We're not going to rush into any type of decision," he said. "We want to make sure it's the best possible decision we can make, and give everybody a chance to be heard."
However, he said the board is going to have to make some tough decisions in the coming months.
"If the board has to make other cuts, what will happen at that point?" Green said. "Everyone says, 'Don't cut my area.' It's an emotional issue as a child's school is closed ... It's not something you can just roll out today. But if the budget continues to go as it is, with the state continuing to cut $2 million a year, in a year and a half we'll be broke."
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2501.