JSD 117 To Begin Community Engagement to Determine Long-Term Fate of Murrayville-Woodson

By Benjamin Cox on June 17, 2021 at 11:47am

One school is getting a full renovation while another school’s fate now lies in the hands of the Morgan County community.

Jacksonville School District 117 voted to move forward to sell bonds. The bonds will currently go towards a renovation and addition at Washington Elementary School.

The sticking point in last night’s meeting was what to do with Murrayville-Woodson School. In a post dated Tuesday, Superintendent Steve Ptacek indicated that he wanted the board to table the community engagement piece for the fate of school and instead perform emergency repairs while an enrollment study was performed for the next 3-5 years.

Board member Teresa Wilson objected to the idea and asked that fellow board members vote to proceed with the community engagement process.

Ptacek says that Wilson’s suggestion to include the 3-5 year wait as an option for the community engagement process for a community committee to decide was a good idea: “I was concerned about moving forward with the Vision 117 Plan concerning Murrayville-Woodson because I do think that the enrollment factor is going to become a major issue in determining the final plan. Looking at COVID and the impact it had to the district, [I thought] it was maybe best to wait some time to see how our enrollment is over the next couple of years. Boardmember Teresa Wilson brought up why not go forward with the committee and community engagement process and include [the wait] as a possible option, but let the community come to that decision. Let the community say that it’s not time to make that decision yet, and I thought that was a tremendous idea.”

In an email on Tuesday, Ptacek had said in a Facebook post that he would propose that the board wait 3-5 years to study the enrollment of Murrayville-Woodson, and in the short term use ESSR funds and some bond proceeds to make emergency repairs to the buildings required to keep it operational during that time frame.

Ptacek will now be compiling a committee of 10-12 members of the community consisting of representatives from each of the elementary schools, 2 members of the current school board, and 3-4 members of the business community.

Ptacek says that school boundaries will have to be looked at no matter the decision on Murrayville-Woodson school: “I think no matter how you look at things, we are going to have to go through the process to evaluate the district boundaries. We have a lot of students in Eisenhower and in South. While we do have less students in Washington and Lincoln, we knew that was by design as part of the boundary process, because based on the demographics of the school, it was going to be more effective to have lower class sizes. At least I know with Washington, it might be smaller than we anticipated so we might have to look at some boundaries. The decision about Murrayville-Woodson is really going to be about boundaries. If Murrayville-Woodson does get the renovation to become a permanent entity, which if that is what the community decides to do; absolutely that’s what the board is going to vote on and I can fully support that – it will result in the boundaries having to move substantially north. If we are going to invest $8.8 million in that school, we have to have at minimum 130 kids within the boundary area, hopefully up to 140.”

Ptacek says that he understands the Murrayville-Woodson community’s frustration of constantly being in flux on the fate of the school over the last 25 years. He says the engagement that he received from the nearly 50 in attendance and online tonight provided great ideas for the process of Murrayville-Woodson’s study. Murrayville resident Jason Wordell spoke during public comment saying that he formerly worked as a police officer in South Jacksonville and currently works for the Murrayville-Woodson Police Department. Wordell said closing Murrayville-Woodson and adding an addition to South, would create major traffic congestion, which in turn would cause public safety concerns. Murrayville resident Jeremy Johnson says that busing kids too long would have a profound effect on student performance, student safety, and economic impacts. Johnson reminded the district that it’s the same distance to bus kids from South Jacksonville to Murrayville and vice versa. Rural Murrayville resident Betsy VanBrocklin says it would have a profound impact on great after school programs provided at Murrayville-Woodson that students may not be able to get in Jacksonville due to overcrowding.

Ptacek says he’s committed on making a decision on the school soon: “It looks like I have about 6 more years before I can retire. I have made the commitment that a decision about something like Murrayville-Woodson that has been going on for 20 or more years – the final decision on whether we are going to renovate that building and make it a permanent structure or close it will take place by the time I’m done. I think that’s going to help the community in general. We heard tonight from the Murrayville-Woodson who spoke, and they were fantastic. It was great input. It was positive. They were passionate, and that’s understandable about their school. They did so out of a really good place, but the comments saying it’s very hard to grow your community when people all the time don’t know what the status of the school is going to be, and that’s right. It’s a very good point. Ultimately, we have to make a call.”

Ptacek says the end result could be an $8.8 million renovation to make the school a permanent fixture in the district. He says that after a final vote on the bond issue a special meeting at the end of this month, the committee and community engagement is expected to begin some time in July with a soft roll out of the Thought Exchange software for the whole district on a topic not related to Vision 117.

The committee will be charged with presenting two or more plans to the district around December 15th.