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“It’s still extremely tough to speak about because there are so many losses that might come out of any gain from this,” said Keller.  “There won’t be many of us that are untouched by this.”

The decision has the potential to save the school board $750,000 next year, money that is sorely needed to go towards other budget priorities such as teachers salaries and benefits.

But while financially the closure is perhaps a good short-term decision, parents are unhappy.

“This is not the best thing for the kids of Fluvanna County, “said parent Bridget Madison, while wearing a Columbia Cool Cats t-shirt.

“Columbia and Cunningham are absolutely magical places, but you don’t have many choices,” said Overton McGehee, acknowledging that the school board had a difficult decision.

No one on the School Board was happy about the vote, but they seemed to see it as a necessary evil.

“The decision I made was not one that was easy,” said Bertha Washington [Fork Union].  “In the past, years ago, we had to close Palmyra school and Fork Union school.  It was disturbing, but it worked.  We have to make changes.”

The closures also cut 20 positions from all realms of the schools – teachers, principal, bus drivers, custodians and food service workers.  The positions will be cut by seniority within the school district, not by location.

The 297 students who attend Cunningham and Columbia will go to Central Elementary next year.  Keller and Assistant Superintendent Chuck Winkler estimate that the closures will affect class sizes for next year’s Kindergarten, first grade and second grade classes. Currently the student to teacher ratio for Kindergarteners in Fluvanna County is 18 to 1, and is projected to go up to 20 to 1 next year.

The closures will also place between 850 to 900 students at Central Elementary School.  While Central has the capacity to hold up to 1,000 students, there is concern about room for growth.  In 2011, before the opening of the new high school, Central was holding over 1,400 students, leaving many children to study in stairways, hallways and trailers.

“We’re just kicking the can a little bit farther down the road.  At some point a new elementary school will need to be built,” said Madison.  Projections show that a new elementary school will need to be built in 3 to 5 years if Columbia and Cunningham continue to remain inoperable.  “Is the county going to be at a better position to build an elementary school then?  We all know the answers to that, probably not.”

Closing Cunningham and Columbia were conditions outlined by the Board of Supervisors when Fluvanna schools were granted a supplemental $308,000 in November in order to balance the budget mid-year and avoid furloughing teachers.  The opening of the new high school this year came with unanticipated expenses the school board hadn’t budgeted for, such as the 64,000 gallons of healing oil the building uses per year.

As of right now, it’s unclear what will happen to the buildings come fall.  Even if not in use, there will be some costs associated with keeping the buildings as school property such as insurance and minimal utilities.  The School Board also has the option to declare the buildings surplus and give them back to the county to become county property.


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