Saxvik Elementary will close its doors to students at the end of this school year.
The Bismarck School Board voted unanimously Monday to repurpose the aging school.
Board member Karl Lembke said the school district has an opportunity to offer a better educational environment to Saxvik students by moving them to other schools. He added that the board also asked Bismarck Public Schools administrators to identify ways to save money.
“I really feel, even though this is an emotional and tough decision, that this does both,” he said.
Administrators proposed closing the school earlier this month, citing costly upgrades needed at the building and declining enrollment. The move would save an estimated $1.5 million annually, according to the administration.
School Board President Lawrence King said Saxvik faces a combination of circumstances that set it apart from other schools in the district.
The 64-year-old facility is losing students and presents a number of challenges, including accessibility problems for students with disabilities, he said. He added that upgrades at the school would come with a cost, and the school district would save money by no longer operating the building.
He also referenced existing room to accommodate Saxvik students at other nearby schools, which would include Jeannette Myhre, Rita Murphy, Pioneer and Will-Moore elementary schools.
“It’s that compilation of all of those factors, when you look at them together, that has ultimately led me to that conclusion that this is the best thing for the kids and for the district,” King said.
One Saxvik parent spoke at Monday’s meeting, and he urged the board to close the school.
Matt Sperry expressed concern about the safety of the neighborhood around Saxvik, which he said draws more crime than the areas surrounding other schools.
When he took his kid to a kindergarten screening there last year, he said he noticed a police car at the school and five more a block away. He recalled that an armed robbery was in progress, and the school would not let anyone leave the building for 30 minutes.
“This event cemented in my brain that my boys would not be as safe in this neighborhood as they would be at other schools in the district,” Sperry said.
It’s undecided who will next occupy the Saxvik building, though administrators have said it’s unlikely students will return. The facility could be used by a business or other entity, or the school district could turn it into office space.
Several board members indicated they would like to see the building repurposed for a use such as a community center to support the Saxvik neighborhood.
Administrators said Saxvik students would be provided buses to their new schools next year, and employees can find jobs elsewhere in the district by filling the positions of retiring teachers and staff.
Parent concerned about PTO role
A parent at Northridge Elementary School spoke to the school board at Monday’s meeting to express concern that parent teacher organizations have to foot costly bills for playgrounds, technology and other classroom equipment.
Mandy Dendy said she was surprised a year ago to hear that it would fall to her PTO to raise $60,000 for new playground equipment at Northridge. Half the equipment was slated to be taken down due to safety concerns, she said.
“It is a significant financial burden that will fall on the PTO’s shoulders alone to meet that playground need.”
Dendy now sits on the school’s playground committee and has applied for grants to cover some of the cost.
At her kids’ school, the PTO has spent tens of thousands of dollars over the past few years to install interactive whiteboards and voice enhancement systems, and to purchase new computers.
Dendy said she spoke to parents at other schools, along with teachers and administrators to understand the situation throughout the district.
“I found that this story I just told you about Northridge was not unique to Northridge at all,” she said to the board Monday.
She said she would like to see the school board take several steps, including establishing a minimum level of classroom equipment and providing funding to bring equal levels of technology to all schools. She added that the district should ensure new schools don’t receive excess technology when older schools lack a quality amount.
Dendy also asked that the school district expand its technology replacement schedule to allot dollars on a regular basis toward classroom equipment. And she requested that the district replace playground equipment with its own funds.
A possible solution, should the district seek a bond referendum to fund expansions at middle schools and upgrades to other buildings, would be to set aside some of that money to put toward equipment and playgrounds, she said.
King said Dendy’s requests highlight the need to look into other equity issues, such as the disparity over music equipment between various schools.
School district officials typically take comments like Dendy’s made during the public appearance portion of meetings under advisement and respond at the next meeting.
The school board's next meeting takes place May 9.