Menasha school board votes to close Jefferson Elementary School after this school year

MENASHA - Jefferson Elementary School will close after this school year, the Menasha school board unanimously decided during its meeting Monday.

The vote comes about three weeks after the first announcement about the possible closure was made. Before taking the roll-call vote, board member Chad Lewis thanked the community for its "cordial and respectful" way of conducting "productive dialogue" about the closure.

As for closing Jefferson, Lewis said if they chose to delay another year, the district would risk having to make cuts that impact more students. He said the district considered closing Jefferson in 2022 at the same time as Nicolet Elementary School, but decided shutting one school at a time was the best course of action.

Though following the district's recommendation was "a difficult and weighty decision," Lewis said, he said the Board believed the closure was "the best way to get to where they need" to address the district's projected $3.5 million budget deficit for next year.

Shortly after Lewis' remarks, the board voted to close the school 7-0.

Jefferson Elementary to close due to budget shortfall, declining enrollment

The closure is projected to save the district about $1 million mostly in staff salaries after accounting for additional busing needs. As Menasha Joint School District Superintendent Matt Zimmerman explained earlier this month, the district will be able to divide Jefferson students among more classrooms, maintaining district-recommended class sizes while reducing the number of staff the district employs as a whole.

It's part of an overall plan to close a $3.5 million deficit in the budget for the next school year that will come about when pandemic-era federal assistance will expire. Other cuts will come about by offering early retirement to 34 teachers and reducing five paraprofessional positions.

The district chose to close Jefferson due to concerns schools across Wisconsin are facing: declining enrollment and a lack of funding. During his address to the board, Lewis encouraged community members to contact their state representatives in order to "make public education a priority in Wisconsin" and provide public schools more funding.

No teachers will lose jobs because of the closure; students will transfer mostly to Butte des Morts Elementary

Former Jefferson students will transfer to Butte des Morts Elementary at 501 Tayco St., about a mile and a half northwest of Jefferson.

In response to parent concerns about class sizes, Zimmerman said in a Feb. 12 meeting that the teachers there "do a phenomenal job" of helping the youngest students transition to kindergarten from 4K and that class sizes would be unaffected by the budget deficit if the district moves forward with closing Jefferson.

Zimmerman said at the time they had learned from closing Nicolet Elementary in 2022. He also said "the vast majority" of Jefferson staff would likely keep their jobs and be offered placements at Butte des Morts and elsewhere in the district.

Lewis said while community members had concerns about the safety of drop-offs and pickups at Butte des Morts, he was "100% confident" that, even with additional students at the school, caregivers could pick up and drop off students safely.

Still, he acknowledged "some congestion" on Tayco Street during those times and hoped the city could find a way to make the surrounding area easier to navigate.

As for the Jefferson Elementary building itself, the district plans to keep it in case it's needed for other programming. In the meantime, the district said they plan to have a transition team in place at Jefferson Elementary in March.

More: Additional details emerge about proposed Jefferson Elementary closure at Menasha School Board meeting

More: MJSD meeting answers additional questions on possible Jefferson Elementary closing

Rebecca Loroff is an education reporter for the USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin. Contact her with story tips and feedback at 920-907-7801 or Follow her on X (formerly Twitter) at @RebeccaLoroff.

This article originally appeared on Appleton Post-Crescent: Menasha school board votes to close Jefferson Elementary School