Year in Review: BOE votes to close Evans Elementary School

Decision to close the school in the 2017–2018 school year was one of the biggest issues of the year in Evesham Township

It was perhaps one of the most divisive issues of the year in Evesham Township when the Board of Education voted 6–3 in March to close Evans Elementary School starting in the 2017–2018 school year.

The vote came after a nearly four-hour meeting, but the discussion and debate over the closure would continue between residents, the township and school district throughout the rest of the year, even leading to a lawsuit between the municipality and board of education.

District officials said the consolidation plan was based on years of declining enrollment across the district, which had peaked at 5,436 students in the 2002–2003 school year.

By the time of the vote to close Evans, enrollment had dropped by nearly 1,000 students to 4,440 students at the start of the 2015–2016 school year.

District officials further argued that projections showed the decline continuing throughout the next several years, with the district already possessing more than enough space for the district’s current number of students.

At the time of the vote and in the following months, the district said the potential closure of Evans save $1.4 million and eliminate the need to expand class sizes and lose instructional programs in the future.

In early May, Town Council and the Planning Board responded to the closure by filing a joint lawsuit against board of education, claiming the BOE did not follow the necessary steps in the lead up to its vote to close Evans.

Township officials claimed that when districts file applications to close schools with the state Department of Education, those applications must come with assurances that any closing is consistent with that district’s long-range facilities plan.

Township officials argued that when the BOE voted to close Evans, its most recent plan at the time, dated 2009, indicated there would be no building demolition or discontinuation of use.

As such, the township claimed the BOE still had to present an amended long-range facilities plan before the township planning board.

Ultimately, officials for the district would appear at a planning board meeting in July as part of a mediation agreement to end the lawsuit.

However, that meeting would end in hostilities as district Superintendent John Scavelli Jr. and several BOE members walked out in protest after Mayor Randy Brown began questioning board members in the audience directly, which district solicitor William Donio argued violated the mediation agreement in which it was agreed all questions would be directed toward him or the superintendent.

That planning board meeting also saw the township present its own demographic studies, which at the time showed 4,459 students in the district by the 2020–2021 school year when using the housing figures that had already been approved by the planning board at that time.

Later in August, at the last BOE meeting before the start of the 2016–2017 school year, the board voted to continue its plan to move new students, kindergarten and learning disabled from Evans Elementary School in anticipation of the school’s eventual closure.

At that time, the district demography studies continued to project district enrollment would continue to decline to 4,287 students by the 2020–2021 school year, versus the township’s estimate of 4,459 students.

Even with the end of 2016 approaching, the Evans issue could still see a reversal, as several board of education candidates who ran on a platform of keeping Evans open won election in the 2016, thereby possibly providing enough votes to reverse the decision once a new board is seated in 2017.