The Murrayville and Woodson communities came together last night to hear talking points on the Vision 117 plan for the area schools.
A power point presentation given by Jeremy Johnson, a member of the Murrayville community, says that Murrayville-Woodson is a viable option for being renovated or having a new school built all together. Johnson says now it is up to the community to get involved and call District 117 school board members to voice their concerns and tell them that the community needs the school to stay put: “After the emails about Vision 117 sent out by Superintendent Steve Ptacek, we tried to mobilize as soon as we could. We got a little group put together and said, ‘Let’s spitball and see what we can do to try to get the community involved and do they even know about it.’ It was just an email. We weren’t sure if the word was really getting out there adequately. It’s a big decision. I mean it’s a huge decision [to possibly close the elementary school.] To not have a good community involvement [in the process], does a disservice to the scale of the decision that’s being made.”
The community group has put together a Facebook Page, buttons, yard signs, and a petition for members of the community to sign in opposition to District 117 closing the Murrayville-Woodson School. Johnson says that Murrayville-Woodson Elementary regularly performs in the highest benchmarks on standardized testing and the elementary school boundary, which is approximately 30-40% of the entire landmass of District 117, contributes approximately $2.5 million in property tax revenue to the district. Johnson says he was concerned about the lack of detail put into a possible upgrade or redesign into Murrayville-Woodson in Ptacek’s Phase III video of the Vision 117 plan. Johnson says the Vision 117 plan was created in 2013 and it’s possible that the plan needs to be looked at and revised.
Woodson Village President Bruce Milner said during the meeting that removing the school out of the southern portion of the county would destroy property values and cause even more people to move away. Milner called the Elementary School the “heart of the community” and says he doesn’t want to see it be ripped out.
Many residents cited the ability of expanding the elementary school property to the East, saying it would be easier to upgrade the school compared to some of the other plans inside the City of Jacksonville. Another resident requested that the district post an itemized list with the building, with the oldest portions dating to 1917.
Johnson says that it’s no secret that the school building is old, but he and many others feel there is a need for a priority on Murrayville-Woodson: “[The building] is not getting any younger. I didn’t come here tonight with the goal in mind or even anyone else here with the goal in mind of asking for a new school and make that the decision. I think it’s a valid point that our building is no spring chicken. It’s true that if we don’t take marked and decisive action on it that [closure of the school] will more than likely come back up again. This type of decision, you could depreciate it over 30-40 years. The debt service is going to be a consideration, but you would save on utilities and maintenance. It would have less upkeep than an older building per se. I think there could be a good argument to be made to build a new school. The main thing I think we set out to do tonight is involve the community and inform the community, and if the community decides that [building a new school] is the way we want to go, I’m supportive of that. I’m supportive of Washington School getting renovated. It certainly needs it, as well. We are down here in Murrayville, we are asking to not be forgotten.”
Johnson said during the presentation that he’s a bit concerned that the school board is afraid to even send a referendum to vote in Morgan County over the building of a new school in the area. Ptacek has mentioned several times of the course of the unveiling of the plan that he does not believe a building referendum would pass at the ballot box.
Over 100 members of the community showed to the meeting at the Murrayville Methodist Church; including District 117 board member Steve Cantrell, both village presidents from Murrayville and Woodson, many of the elementary school staff, and Representative C.D. Davidsmeyer. Many of the members came to the consensus that they want to speak at or attend the next District 117 board meeting held next week.