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Greater Clark County School Closures Rile Jeffersonville City Leaders

J. Tyler Franklin

Jeffersonville officials are worried about the repercussions of the Greater Clark County school board’s decision to shut down two more schools in the city.

Two weeks ago, Greater Clark school board members voted in favor of closing Bridgepoint Elementary and Corden Porter School. The board has now voted to close four schools in Jeffersonville over the past four years, having shuttered Maple and Spring Hill elementary schools in 2017.

The decision was part of a plan to cut around $6 million of the school district’s budget. Closing the two schools will save the district nearly $1.5 million a year.

But some Jeffersonville officials feel the cuts made by the school district, which also serves Charlestown, Clarksville, New Washington and Utica, are disproportionately affecting the city.

“The city of Jeffersonville right now has literally been the fire of all of the economic growth in Indiana,” Mayor Mike Moore said. “I mean, we are now in the conversation with major cities around the United States as far as the potential to land the next big job site. Our residential growth is unprecedented right now. Just everything that you would set out to try and put your city in a situation to do, we've done that.”

Moore said the city’s growth has generated money for Greater Clark. Home and property values have increased by 8%, which boosts revenue for local schools. He said the city has also provided benefits to the district, like the Ivy Tech scholarship program offered to Jeffersonville High School graduates.

“I'm angry, and yet, I have no control over the situation,” Moore said. “It's very frustrating to see people making these kinds of decisions. Looking at the background of the school board and of the school administration, you know, I don't see any expertise in dealing with the economy and growth.”

Greater Clark Superintendent Mark Laughner declined multiple requests for an interview, saying the district is looking to move past the decision from two weeks ago. Board president John Buckwalter also declined to speak to WFPL at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

Keith Freeman, who represents the district where Bridgepoint is located, was the lone board member to vote against the cuts. He said he would have liked to keep the school open, noting the school’s location and the size of the surrounding neighborhood.

But he said Bridgepoint’s facilities need upgrades, which would result in a multimillion-dollar project.

“Seven years ago, it was like $15 million,” Freeman said. “With the increased building costs [and] inflation, now that number is even more. It was going to take more of a budget to get that school up to the same levels as the others. But once it starts to get to the point to where you have to decide whether to upgrade the school, or even build a new one, it's time to go ahead and make that decision, and that’s what the school board did.”

Bridgepoint students will go to Riverside and the recently built Franklin Square. Freeman said the two schools have the capacity to take on the new students, and that it won’t adversely affect the learning environment by increasing class sizes.

But Jeffersonville City Council member Bill Burns said population growth will eventually lead to a larger student body, and he points to the construction of infill housing developments adjacent to Bridgepoint and larger nearby projects like Ellingsworth Commons. The district has improved its reputation by decreasing class sizes in recent years, Burns said, and he’s worried that could change with the school closures.

“It's not good for our community, and it's not going to be good for our developments down the road,” he said. “We spent many, many years trying to change the reputation of our school system, and we're sending the wrong message by closing schools.”

Burns isn’t worried that the Bridgepoint property will become blighted. He believes the school system won’t have trouble finding a new tenant for the building. Spring Hill and Maple have already been sold to community organizations within the county, though atcheaper sale prices than the properties’ appraised values.

Freeman said school officials have not yet considered any future uses for the building, but those conversations should ramp up once the schools close at the end of the semester.

“There are a few different things I would like for it to be,” he said. “We could sell it to a developer, we could sell it to anybody as is, or we could probably partner with the city to probably do something great for the neighborhood.”

John, News Editor for LPM, is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Email John at jboyle@lpm.org.