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Jerry Riibe (copy)

Riibe

The Muscatine School District will continue to discuss how to address dwindling enrollment and best use of facilities, according to Superintendent Jerry Riibe. Though one possibility could include a different use for Colorado Elementary School.

“Nothing has been decided,” Riibe emphasized Thursday. At its Monday night meeting, the school board discussed various approaches, including consolidating the early education program and using the Colorado Elementary building for it.

Size-wise, Colorado is the smallest elementary building, he said Monday at the meeting.

“Right now, we have five buildings that have 4-year-olds. Would that (a consolidated program) work at Colorado (Elementary)? Also, we have community partners that serve 4-year-olds,” he said

“A more efficient approach might be to have all the 4-year-olds in one building," Riibe said. "If the district could provide a program where students could be on hand for the whole school day, that would be helpful to parents."

"What if we used one of our existing elementary buildings? ... Would this be a way to keep all of our elementary schools viable?" he asked.

Earlier this year, the district considered the former J.C. Penney space in Muscatine Mall as a possible location for the Early Childhood Center. The district hired DLR Group to explore the feasibility of converting the space into a facility for preschoolers.

Ultimately, though, the cost of renovation for a leased building “didn’t seem to make very much sense,” he said. The area had more than enough space, but bringing it up to code would have been cost-prohibitive, he said.

“We also feel like one middle-school building would serve our needs, looking at our enrollment projections. We’re in an information-gathering part of this,” Riibe said. “Central is about 80 years old,” he said. “It’s really hard to remodel a building like that.

The district is financially stable, he said. “We haven’t had to reduce any teachers or cut any programs.”

But “When we look at the number of births in Muscatine County, we’re probably going to continue to have declining enrollment.”

In March 2016, The Muscatine Board of Education unanimously voted to close Washington Elementary School because of declining enrollment and financial constraints. The district closed Washington because its enrollment was declining faster than that of other elementary schools.

“We wanted to be in front of the curve,” Riibe said. “What we didn’t want to do is close a building because of a crisis.”

“We know down the road we’re going to have fewer kids, which means fewer dollars,” he said. Now the district is considering the best way to maintain its people and programs.

“At this point, we’re still looking at the logistics of it,” he said. “We’ll be meeting with teachers — that’s our next group. When we know more, we’ll have some information sessions for parents and the community.

“We wanted to be really upfront with folks that we’re looking at this,” Riibe said. “The downside when you do that is that people assume you know all the answers right away.”

The district, which has 4,800 students, has seven elementary buildings, two middle schools and one high school.

“The projection is we’ll probably be down another 200 students in the next two or three years,” he said.

Discussions will continue at each school board meeting over the next few months. “As we start to gather more information, we’ll share that with the board. We’ll try to be as transparent as possible.”

According to the Iowa Department of Education’s Basic Educational Data Survey, district enrollment has dropped by 354 students since the 2013-14 school year.

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