The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

December 18, 2012

Ridge Farm students see changes ahead


DANVILLE — Members of the Georgetown-Ridge Farm school board voted last week to close Ridge Farm Elementary School in a move that must have caught many Ridge Farm residents by surprise.

The vote along with a hefty 14 percent increase in the school district’s tax rate.

The 150 students who now attend classes in Ridge Farm will go to Georgetown’s Pine Crest Elementary School next year.

Board members say the move was necessary to save the district $300,000. But there’s more than monetary costs involved. Many of those Ridge Farm students will spend far more time on a school bus next year, costing them time with family and in other pursuits.

The biggest problem with decision for many parents was the almost total lack of public discussion about closing the school. The same can be said about the tax increase.

Most Illinois residents know state officials continue to cut funding to schools — funding promised by lawmakers who now ignore those commitments — due to the horrible financial conditions legislators created by ignoring problems.

The same situation appears to have played out at Georgetown-Ridge Farm, Superintendent Jean Henigman-Neal said as much at last week’s meeting. She said previous school boards decided not to increase taxes in the past, using the district’s reserves instead. Now the district faces a $1 million deficit and must increase taxes to catch up.

That’s understandable. What’s difficult to understand is such a significant decision as closing an elementary school taking place without substantial public discussion and even the opportunity for Ridge Farm residents to express their opinions at a meeting in their community.

Henigman-Neal said the changes were necessary because the board did not want to “impact the learning environment of our students.”

It seems last week’s decision does exactly that in a significant way.