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​Fewer students, fewer classrooms

Enrollment declines force board to close some schools

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Print this page by Denice Thibodeau

Danville’s downtown renaissance already was under way when the 2010 Census results came out. The numbers highlighted the importance of the city’s focus on rebuilding its business base and attracting new residents.

The Census showed the city’s population had dropped by more than 11 percent in 10 years, to a total of just more than 43,000 residents. A population drop had been expected — declining numbers of home purchases and rising numbers of abandoned, deteriorating houses were easy to see — but the number shocked city officials.

“Where did 5,000 people go?” Mayor Sherman Saunders wondered — and immediately he began figuring out ways to bring them back.
As the city’s population declined, enrollment at Danville Public Schools decreased dramatically as well.

Last year, one of the city’s nine elementary schools closed, and three more followed this year. When school resumes in August, Danville will have two middle schools instead of three.

Parents did their best to fight the closings, petitioning the School Board to keep their community’s schools open. When that effort failed, Danville City Council members were implored to increase funding so that no school would have to close.

But the final decision came down to budget numbers. The state bases its funding on a per-student basis, and the city already gives the schools almost twice what the state requires. Continuing to keep school buildings open at reduced capacity was simply no longer an option, former Danville Public Schools Superintendent Sue Davis says.

Davis, who retired June 30, says she fully understood parents’ concerns. She assures them that the school closings will not result in fewer teachers (cuts in faculty already have been made over the years as enrollment dropped) or more students per classroom. There simply will be fewer empty classrooms.
Though she accepted the responsibility for the decisions, Davis says, like the parents, she felt her heart fight the inevitable. “But that’s a heart thing,” Davis says. “This had to be a head decision.”

 


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