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Another suitor for Cherry

CHERRY — The second of two applicants for the hand of Cherry Grade School made its pitch Monday night.

Following last month’s presentation by Ladd Superintendent Michelle Zeko, it was Dimmick Superintendent Ryan Linnig’s turn.

A combination of evaporating state aid, shrinking property values and declining enrollment has led the Cherry board to pursue closing the school at the end of the 2013-14 school year.

When the board members made the decision to look into closing, they invited Zeko and Linnig to make presentations to the board and the community.

Linnig said the situation in Cherry is very difficult, and no one wants to be in that situation. However, he expects the situation to become more common in other districts as well.

“If Springfield represented education better, we wouldn’t be at this point,” he said.

Linnig said he was not at the meeting to “sell” the board on choosing Dimmick, but rather to share what Dimmick has to offer, so the board can make an educated decision.

Linnig then discussed his district’s core beliefs, including an expectation of excellence from students, staff and administration.

He outlined the district’s academic program, which includes small group instruction in reading, and a math program which groups students according to ability.. Linnig said Dimmick is one of only a few districts in the area to offer daily physical education.

Linnig then talked about the district’s enrichment classes, which include bilingual classes in Spanish and the district’s new Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) program, which gives students the opportunity to study subjects such as computer animation, forensic science and audio broadcasting.

Linnig said the STEM program has been extremely successful.

“It engages kids in a different way,” he said.

Linnig explained the district’s Response To Intervention (RTI) program, which he called one of the district’s biggest successes. Students are screened after summer vacation, and students in need of assistance are identified for additional assistance.

After seven years, Linnig said the program has reduced the number of students needing services by 59 percent.

“The program has been enormously successful in getting the kids caught up to grade level,” he said.

Adding Cherry’s anticipated 62 students to Dimmick’s 108 would increase Dimmick’s total enrollment by almost 60 percent. However, Linnig said no new teaching positions should be created, as the class sizes would range from 17 to 22, with only one class per grade.

If Cherry chooses the Dimmick district, taxpayers could expect to see significant savings. The tax rate would drop from the current $4.13 to $1.64, saving the owner of a $100,000 property an estimated $831.76 per year.

Dimmick’s has one of the lowest tax rates, due to its large commercial/industrial base, as the district includes much of the development in north Peru.

“The only district that has been able to beat us is Seneca, and they have a nuclear power plant,” Linnig said.

After Linnig answered some questions from the audience, more questions were directed to the Cherry board.

Al Hahn again asked the board members why they were “giving up” instead of keeping the school open by issuing more bonds.

“I’d issue them until you can’t issue them any more,” he said.

Board member Jim Lower said the district can’t issue enough bonds to keep the district open without eliminating another teaching position. The district only has five teachers this year, and Lower said they are already some of the lowest paid teachers in the area.

Lower said the district has done everything it can, and must do what is in the best interest of the students.

“The kids are the important thing,” he said. “If we don’t do what we are doing, the kids are going to be the ones that suffer.”

Hahn then said the board should try to pass a referendum, an idea that was not appreciated by at least one woman in the audience.

“So you don’t think our taxes are high enough now?” she said.

Board member Frank Pullam said if taxes keep going up, families won’t move into Cherry, which he said would be worse than losing the school. He said he would be proud for the students to attend either Ladd or Dimmick.

A woman in the audience said the children might have been disappointed at the thought of Cherry closing, but they became more excited when they heard about the opportunities at the other districts.

“If the kids were here, it would be interesting to hear what they would say,” she said.

Lower said the next step is for the board to review the presentations from Dimmick and Ladd at the March 18 meeting.

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