Jackson officials note high cost of educating students
PRINCETON - Jackson County school officials may soon discuss whether to close Paint Rock Valley School in Princeton because of its declining enrollment, now at 95 students for grades K-12.
"Unless enrollment increases we would have no alternative than to (close it) in the near future," said Brenda Brown, chair of the Jackson County Board of Education.
Educating a child at Paint Rock Valley School costs twice as much as at other schools in the Jackson County system, she said Tuesday.
Superintendent Ken Harding said the school's low enrollment is a financial concern "we're looking at." But he said there are no plans to close the school, at least not this school year.
What about after the school year?
"That would be up to the board," he said. "We haven't gotten to that point yet. I kind of dread talking about it. It's not something you look forward to."
The school's enrollment has declined about 36 percent over the last five years, from 148 students during the 2005-06 school year to 95 this school year, making it the smallest enrollment in the state for a K-12 school, according to the state school board.
Paint Rock Valley School Principal Lauria Merritt said 17 students graduated last year and 15 are expected to graduate in the spring. She said the school had its largest enrollment, 200 students, during the 1970s.
Because of the low enrollment and her small teaching staff (12), grades 1 and 2, 3 and 4 and 5 and 6 have been combined and are taught by three teachers who graduated from the school.
The same combined grades were in place when these teachers were attending school, Merritt said. "So, they understand the concept."
Built in 1935, Paint Rock Valley School is probably the only place left that ties together its tiny community, said Loretta Harris, who graduated from the school in 1955 and served as its secretary for 20 years.
Harris said she and other residents are concerned about the future of the school that their families built from rocks and timber gathered from nearby fields and mountainsides.
But officials said the community's isolation in a remote, rural setting and its lack of businesses, including restaurants, grocery stores and recreational activities, has made it less of an ideal place for young couples to raise a family.
And some who do live there, Brown said, have their children bused to the other nearby K-12 schools - Skyline, 12 miles away, and Woodville, 22 miles away, each with enrollments of more than 500 students.
If enrollment does not increase and/or the current economic condition does not improve, "we'd have to discuss the possibility of closing it," she said. "Not because they're not getting a good education, but strictly because of the financial situation."
Harris, who also had a son and daughter graduate from the school and now has two grandchildren enrolled there, said she's urging residents to voice their opposition to closing the school. She said she and another woman recently met with Harding about the possibility of the school's closing and was told that it would not be discussed before January.
"But I think it's important we make our concerns known before then," she said. "Even if I didn't have grandchildren there, I'd be fighting for the school."