The Evesham Township School District is moving forward with current plans to not hold kindergarten classes, accept new students or hold learning disabled programs at Evans Elementary School for the upcoming 2016–2017 school year set to begin in a few weeks.
That was the decision out of the Aug. 18 meeting of the ETSD Board of Education after the board held a vote on whether to continue with the district’s current plans regarding Evans for this upcoming school year or to make a last-minute change.
As has been the district’s plan for the last several months, kindergarten, learning disabled programs and new students will still be going to schools in the district other than Evans for the 2016–2017 school year in preparation for the district’s plans to move all classes from Evans in the following 2017–2018 school year and close the school entirely.
It was during the old business portion of the meeting that Evesham BOE member Sandy Student first called for a motion to change the district’s current plans.
Student, who originally voted to keep Evans open when the board first voted on the issue in March, noted several reasons for his motion, including the ongoing debate between the school district and township regarding the accuracy of the demographic studies commissioned by the district that were used as a factor in the vote to close Evans.
This past 2015–2016 school year saw 4,440 students in the district, down from the peak enrollment of the 2002–2003 school year that saw the district with 5,436 students.
Yet at an Evesham Township planning board meeting in June, the district projected that enrollment would continue to decline to 4,287 students in the district by the 2020–2021 school year, while the township projected a slight increase from current enrollment figures at 4,459 to 4,593 students depending on future housing approvals.
Student also expressed concern for the Evans families with multiple children of different ages who now had to determine more complex childcare arrangements due to having to deal with multiple bus pickups and school start and dismissal times.
Student also noted that the NJ Department of Education had still yet to grant the district final approval to close Evans in 2017–2018 school year, yet the district was already moving classes from the school.
“Until we get a determination from the state department of education, these actions of moving students, programs and staff may be premature,” Student said.
With Student’s motion on the floor, superintendent John Scavelli implored the board to vote no.
Scavelli noted that while the district did not yet have final approval from the state to close Evans, the state had approved the district in one of the two main portions of the approval process.
Scavelli said the state had approved amendments to the district’s long-range facilities plan, which outlines efficiency standards and enrollment capacity limits for the districts buildings.
According to Scavelli, even without Evans School, the facility efficiency and enrollment capacity of the district for all of its remaining schools totaled 4,724 students.
Scavelli said that figure was at a 90 percent utilization rate, and doesn’t include science rooms and labs. If the number was tabulated to be 100 percent of the district’s capacity and including science labs, Scavelli said true enrollment capacity was 5,479 students.
Scavelli noted the 5,479-student figure was still above the 2002–2003 school year peak of 5,436 students, and if Evans School space was included in the enrollment capacity calculations, the figure would approach 6,100 students.
Scavelli said for years the state has been imploring school districts to run efficiently, and the Evesham Township School District was doing just that.
“We should be put forward as a model school district in doing this — a model school district in doing this,” Scavelli said. “It took a lot of guts and it took a lot of courage from the board members, the administration and the staff, and our parents and our children to move forward with this initiative.”
Scavelli also got into a heated debate with board member Nichole Stone regarding several issues, including whether or not class sizes across the district have been going up in recent years.
Board member Joe Fisicaro Jr. also seemed frustrated when he questioned why Student had waited until the last board meeting before the start of the new school year to make his motion, as the board had approved the Evans related issues in March.
The final vote on Student’s motion to keep kindergarten, new students and learning disabled programs at Evans for the 2016–2017 school year was a 4–3 no decision, with board members Elaine Barbagiovanni, Joseph De Julius, Fisicaro and Lisa Mansfield voting no, and Joanne Harmon, Stone, Student voting yes.
Board member Jeff Bravo abstained from the vote after a prolonged period where he was visibly frustrated. Bravo originally voted to close Evans in March.
Board member Trish Everhart was not present at the meeting.