GRANITE CITY — Niedringhaus Elementary will close, and Granite City schools will be restructured in the next school year.
The Granite City school board voted unanimously to accept Superintendent Harry Briggs' recommendation that Niedringhaus be closed, rather than proceed with $1.5 million in needed renovations.
Briggs said closing the building would save utility costs, but the real savings would be in personnel. About 12 people are scheduled to retire this year, he said, and their positions will not be filled.
The districtwide restructuring will consolidate grades 5 and 6 into one intermediate school, with grades 7 and 8 at a consolidated junior high. It will mean abandoning the middle school concept, which focuses on team-teaching in small groups. While Briggs said that system did work well, using the more traditional junior high concept will save the district money.
"It's all we can do short of major negative ramifications to our school district," Briggs said. "But if the state continues to cut our revenues, it won't be enough and we'll have to go back to the drawing board and look at other avenues... how to pay for what we bring to the table: payroll, athletics, fine arts, all the things that make a school district what it is."
Those consolidations also will make room for the 475 students at Niedringhaus who must be absorbed by the other schools. However, Briggs said using the intermediate and junior high concepts for grades 5-8 will allow the elementary school class sizes to remain the same.
"Closing the building allows us to absorb jobs through attrition without raising class sizes," he said.
The board also approved $12 million in general obligation bonds. Of that, $2.5 million is restructuring of existing bonds, and the remainder will add to the working cash fund. The bonds will be paid off over 10 years by retiring some of Granite City's older debt, and Briggs said the district's overall bond debt after this issuance will be $21 million, half of which will be retired by 2018.
In addition to the actions taken Tuesday, Briggs said the board will continue to make cuts where they can and eliminate as many jobs as possible through retirements and departures.
However, he said they are dedicated to keeping the tax rate level. "We have structured the bonds so there will not be a tax increase," he said.
Still, Briggs said it is becoming more and more difficult to keep the district running with revenues dropping every year.
"We're broke," he said. "We've lost substantial amounts of revenue through the actions of the state of Illinois. Just like Alton, Edwardsville or O'Fallon, the pro-ration of general state aid and reduction of transportation reimbursement has caused financial challenges."
Last year, the state pro-rated its obligations to schools by 5 percent. This year, it was 11 percent, which Briggs has said cost Granite City $2 million.
"I would challenge anyone to come in and do a financial analysis of Granite City and tell me where we haven't done due diligence in looking at our costs," Briggs said. "We've been very prudent and this board has been very prudent in how we spend the taxpayers' money... I'm an educator, and I love to provide programs for kids in good facilities and I like to see our kids get all the opportunities they possibly can. Now it's a real challenge."
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at email@example.com or 239-2501.