FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) Fort Wayne Community Schools will close neighborhood school Nebraska Elementary at the end of the school year, according to a letter sent home to parents Thursday night.
A district spokesperson confirmed the closure late Thursday, a result of a decline in enrollment over the last 10 years at the school located just west of downtown Fort Wayne, on Boone Street.
According to the Department of Education’s records, 227 students were enrolled at Nebraska last year. Enrollment has steadily declined since the 2005-2006 school year, at which time 294 students were enrolled. It has fallen to 150 students this year, the district said in the letter.
The letter said the district will recommended to its Board of School Trustees that the elementary school close in May 2016. The letter indicated students would attend Washington Elementary in the 2016-2017 school year. Washington, which itself has seen a drop in enrollment, has “plenty of space” to absorb the Nebraska population, district spokeswoman Krista Stockman said.
A portion of the letter reads:
“This decision was necessary as the enrollment for Nebraska has declined steadily over the last 10 years, dropping from 300 students in 2005 to about 150 today. Washington Elementary has also seen a decrease in enrollment. We cannot efficiently operate two schools of this size. We understand Nebraska is an anchor in this neighborhood and we do not plan to abandon this building. It will continue to be used for student programs, and we will be working over the next year to determine exactly what programs will be offered.”
The numbers between the two schools are fairly comparable. There are 159 total students currently attending Washington Elementary. There is one teacher for each grade level. There are also teachers for specials, including gym, art, and music, as well as ELL, Special Education and Intervention. There are 155 total students currently at Nebraska Elementary. It also has the same teacher breakdown as Washington, except for ELL. The Pre-K students in Nebraska’s boundary already attend Pre-K at Washington.
Stockman sent the following breakdowns to NewsChannel 15.
- Pre-Kindergarten – 27 (two sections)
Stockman said a meeting is scheduled for Nov. 24 at 5:30 p.m. where district officials will meet with parents to discuss the closure and future plans. She said this will be a “difficult time” and said the district wants to work with parents and families.
Fort Wayne Community Schools Board of Trustees President Mark GiaQuinta said Friday morning the move to close the school was a business decision.
“We make a lot of hard decisions,” said GiaQuinta over the phone. “One of our three goals is to operate the district with fiscal integrity. Our job is to use taxpayer dollars very efficiently. When we have underutilized buildings, we have to make sure we use the taxpayer dollars in the most effective and efficient way.”
GiaQuinta said the district heavily relies on the community’s support, and it will work to ensure the Nebraska building is still a vibrant and active part of the community. He said the board and administrators want to make sure to talk to all of the “stakeholders” including parents and neighbors before finalizing plans.
The district offered no other comment on the closure.
In the next few weeks, all Fort Wayne Community schools will have tours to help families make decisions before the lottery application deadline of Dec. 18.
The last Fort Wayne Community Schools buildings to close were Elmhurst High and Pleasant Center Elementary schools, which both shut their doors in 2010 in district measures to cuts millions from its operating budget.
Nebraska Elementary won’t close until the end of the school year, but neighbors said Friday they’re already feeling the loss.
Nebraska first opened its doors back in 1964. For a school that’s been around since the year of the Beatles’ American invasion, it too has left its mark on history.
“I do think it’s a landmark. Just like any school that closes and it’s been around for people. You know parents and grandparents have graduated from there or went there their whole lives,” neighbor Kerry McFatridge said.
Kerry McFatridge isn’t a Nebraska alumni, but is still sad to see the school close.
“It’s been around for a while, and just generations have went there. I think it’s just something that people come and there are memories for people,” McFatridge said. “It’s sad to hear about any type of school closing. Whether it be enrollment issues, it’s still someplace that the children need.”
It’s a staple in this community that’s created countless memories for so many people, including 52-year-old Ray Bonar.
“I can tell you one thing, the principal had blue hair and her name was Ms. Hutchinson.”
Bonar remembers his time at Nebraska well and has lived across the street most of his life.
“That’s going to be pretty sad though, when they take the school away because we like hearing the company and stuff out there and hearing the kids play,” Bonar said.
That includes Larry Johnson’s kids. He has twin girls in fifth grade and a son in third at Nebraska. They can also see the school from their front porch and live just a block away.
“I think it’s a great school. I don’t know why it’s getting shut down. I’m kind of hurt from that. You know, it’s right there,” Johnson said.
Still, Johnson’s trying to stay positive about the changes ahead.
“Everything happens for a reason, so I guess it’s for the future. You’ve got to think ahead and not backwards,” Johnson said. “They let us know, you know, ain’t nothing they can do you know. They want to combine it, so I can’t knock them for what they’re doing.”