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District closing junior high building

Plans for closing of the Pawhuska Junior High School building received a go-ahead vote from Board of Education members at a special meeting Thursday.

The measure is viewed as a necessary cost-cutting action brought about by declining enrollment figures and ongoing reductions in funding for Oklahoma public education.

Dr. Landon Berry, the superintendent of Pawhuska Schools, said state funds coming to the local district were down $533,000 in 2013-14 compared with the previous school year.

“Plus, the current projections are calling for a drop of another $200,000 next year,” said Berry.

Closure of the PJHS building was approved by a unanimous vote of the school board. It is expected to save the Pawhuska School District approximately $100,000 a year, Berry said.

“This happened quickly, but it kind of had to,” the superintendent said. “We will still have more than enough room and can re-open the building if we need to.”

In addition to reducing utility costs, the measure allows the district to eliminate one of its principals. The position at Pawhuska Elementary position was recently vacated by principal Les Potter, who resigned in May to become the principal at Alva High School.

Approximately 100 students are to be directly affected by the move, which will cause seventh-graders to remain at the Pawhuska Elementary School facility for another year. Local eighth-grade students will be having their classes at Pawhuska High School.

The plan of action calls for moving Pawhuska Junior High Principal Jon Culver to the elementary school position. Beverly Moore is to remain in her current role at Indian Camp Elementary, which will continue as a pre-kindergarten-through-second-grade facility. PHS Principal Joe Sindelar will be responsible for one extra grade level.

“Eighth graders already were going to the high school for some classes,” Berry said. “I don’t anticipate any problems from sending all of them over there.”

Berry said the district is desperately searching for funding to buy new text books. At present, the local schools are well behind the recommended schedule for the updating and replacing of their books. Purchases related to technological improvements also are needed, the superintendent added.

Current bills that are before Gov. Mary Fallin would cause additional reductions in the state’s funding for education — if she signs them. The bills include proposals for cutting Oklahoma property and income taxes.

“The school-budgeting process has become so unpredictable, that we have got to be prepared for anything,” said the Pawhuska official. “Every time we look at something, we’re forced to consider the probability that we’ll have fewer and fewer dollars to pay for it.”

Berry said the junior high shutdown could only be temporary and hopes are high that it would be reopened as soon as funding is increased or district enrollment goes up.

“I’m afraid that’s not going to happen anytime soon, however,” the superintendent added.

Pawhuska’s school buildings were designed to serve approximately 1,100 students and the latest figures put the district’s total enrollment at 830, Berry said. Indian Camp is the only facility close to its capacity, according to the school official.

Another cost-reduction measure approved by the board will reduce the number of school bus routes from eight to six. Also voted into effect was a plan for operating the district’s alternative education program out of the high school. That decision also will bring about changes in the hours that alternative ed classes are offered.

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