MURPHY — This will be Jerome Prairie Elementary School's last year.
Against the recommendation of its Closure Consideration Committee, the Three Rivers District Board voted 4-0 Monday night to close the school at the end of the current school year — the fourth school in the district to close as enrollment and state funding decline.
"I had to do this one time before with Wolf Creek (Elementary in 2009), and it doesn't seem to get any easier," district Superintendent Dan Huber-Kantola told a near-capacity crowd of about 80 at the district office.
"I know there's a huge disadvantage to (closing Jerome Prairie)," he said, "and the biggest disadvantage, like it's been stated, is that schools become a central part of any community."
But Huber-Kantola recommended closing Jerome Prairie and cited advantages to merging with Madrona Elementary, including fewer multigrade classes, a special education teacher and a principal who will no longer have to divide their time between schools.
If the district hadn't also closed Merlin and Selma elementary schools in 2000, it would be faced with $400,000 to $500,000 in additional cuts today, he said.
"Five years from now, we will have saved approximately $1 million by consolidating schools — and that's not a small amount," Huber-Kantola added.
He pointed out that the former schools have gone to good use: Wolf Creek as a charter school, Merlin as a headquarters for the Young Marines and an alternative school, and Selma as a community center.
Jerome Prairie could become a charter school, a bus staging area or a church, he said.
The Closure Consideration Committee had unanimously recommended holding off a decision on Jerome Prairie for a year, allowing time to get back to a full school board of five, and to get some better answers on state funding. One seat on the board, formerly held by Jadd Horban, who resigned earlier this year, will be filled during the May election.
— Howard Huntington, Grants Pass Daily Courier, www.thedailycourier.com