329 Board votes to close Maple Hill Elementary

Heather Baker | staff writer

This could be the final year for students to attend Maple Hill Elementary school.

At its monthly meeting on January 9, the USD 329 board of education moved to close Maple Hill Elementary school, likely at the start of the 2023-24 school year.

Before discussing the elementary school, superintendent Troy Pitsch presented a slideshow of the district’s finances from 2010-2026. In all recent years excluding 2020, the district has been spending more than it’s earning. 

According to Pitsch’s estimates, the district will have an approximately $581,000 shortfall of what is needed in the 2025-26 school year.

“We are one roof or HVAC away from financial challenges for our district,” Pitsch said.

The district’s revenues have been steadily declining since 2010, a decline that’s now hit about 50 percent since that year. If state funds were delayed, the district would be in a bad financial situation.

There are two funds set aside for emergencies, capital outlay and contingency. These funds are for if the district doesn’t receive money (like in a delay) or if something important in a building breaks (like a roof) respectively.

According to Pitsch, the district is supposed to have enough money in these funds to handle 3 months of no cash flow from the state and one immediate emergency. With the money the district currently has, the district could potentially survive with 3 months of no cash flow, but it would drain both funds. An emergency, however, would leave the district in a pickle.

“The intent is to be as clear as possible about our financial situation,” Pitsch said.

The school board then discussed closing MHES as a way to save money moving forward.

Board member Kelly Oliver said the board takes no pleasure in closing buildings. “I don’t want to close Maple Hill, my kids went there, but unfortunately we are in a district where our enrollment is declining. We don’t have the kids in that area. We have kids coming in from Paxico and Maple Hill and it’s still not enough. We are bussing kids from Alma and McFarland to help increase class sizes to reduce the burden on teachers in Alma,” Oliver said.

Pitsch said the projected savings from closing the building would be around $200,000 a year. 

Pitsch and elementary principal Robert Schawo discussed options on where to put students if the school were to close. Schawo said the biggest issue is space, and that modular units would be needed in Alma to accommodate an influx of students. He did cite concerns about both cost and security with this option.

Schawo also discussed the possibility of moving elementary students to Paxico and moving junior high students to Alma.

Board Member Jerome Hess moved that a notice of a public hearing for the closure of Maple Hill Elementary School be published in the Wabaunsee Signal-Enterprise as required by state statute. Justin Frank seconded. The motion carried 4-2 (Tony Conard:no vote, Callie Meinhardt: abstained).

The next board meeting will be on February 13 at 6 p.m. at the district office in Alma. The board will continue its discussion of how the district will move forward after the MHES closes.

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