A somber mood pervaded the cafeteria of Campus Community High School as a quiet audience of about 20 awaited a final board vote on the financially strapped school’s future Wednesday night. Sure enough, the CCS Board voted to close the high school at the end of this school year.
A somber mood pervaded the cafeteria of Campus Community High School as a quiet audience of about 20 awaited a final board vote on the financially strapped school’s future Wednesday night.
The ambiance stood in stark contrast to the November meeting in which students, parents and teachers gave impassioned pleas to the board not to close their beloved school.
At that Nov. 16 meeting, the Campus Community Board granted the group known as the 650 Club a month to raise the money needed to keep the high school open.
The 650 Club worked hard to raise $5,949.80, Head of School Patricia “Trish” Hermance said at the board’s meeting. She commended them for their efforts.
However, board members had made it clear they wanted to see $650,000 in the bank.
“They made a $650,000 effort,” board member Lisa McMasters said of the club.
So, there was no surprise by the time the Campus Community School Board took its vote. The board voted 9-0, with one abstention, to close the high school at the end of this school year, with provisions made for rising 12th graders to complete their diploma next year somehow.
Wesley College’s decision to reclaim the campus facility that has housed the elementary and middle school grades rent-free precipitated the closing of the high school. The students from the elementary school will be moved to the high school campus at 350 Pear Street in Dover for the 2012-2013 school year.
The loss of this campus facility essentially amounts to the loss of a $300,000 annual subsidy for building costs, Hermance has said.
Board President Marc Coté lamented the fact that this decision had to come ironically during the Christmas "holiday season of giving."
"It’s not a meeting or a vote that any of us relishes," Coté said. “We did the best we could with what we had. Wesley’s withdrawal two years ago under the terms of our agreement became the trigger event for this. But in examining how to fund the new costs that the subsidy of Wesley had covered unmasked greater structural issues.”
The fact is that the lower school has been subsidizing the high school at a cost of $200,000 per year, he said. In all fairness, Campus Community School could not keep asking the lower school to keep that subsidy up.
CCC, which has $6 million in annual revenue, has a modest cash reserve of $800,000, Coté said. Schools that don’t build reserves have trouble meeting their bills or payrolls.
He pointed to how the Christina School District infamously got itself into a deficit about six years ago when it hired too many teachers and administrators above what the state formula allows. (That drained their local, discretionary funds and compelled the district to borrow a reported $20 million from the state.)
In addition to the capital challenge, Campus Community High’s enrollment of less than 300 students was not a viable number, he said. Most high schools in the state enroll 650 to 2,000 students, each of which earns them state funding.
Finally, it appears that two new charter high schools are coming in the near future to compete for students in Kent County, including one that will be based at Delaware State University, he said.
All told, Campus Community School does not want to be among the charters closed by the Delaware Department of Education because of poor finances or academic performance, Coté said.
Board member Kathy Doyle, who abstained from voting, said the current board had done all it could do to keep the high school open. She could not say the same for previous boards.
“Thirteen years ago a capital campaign should have been done,” Doyle said. “Seven years ago, it should have been done. I’ve heard students say, ‘How did you not know the school was going to close?’ And it upsets me,” she added, drawing applause from the small crowd.
After the vote, Campus Community High junior Miranda Sweetman and her father, Mark Sweetman left the cafeteria wondering what the board’s long-term effect would have on younger students. They are members of the 650 Club.
“The kids below me, they’ve been in here since first grade,” Miranda Sweetman said. “They’re being ripped out of their school because they don’t have the funding. It’s not right to them.”
“Mrs. Doyle said it the best,” added Mark Sweetman. “The board didn’t do, in her opinion, everything it should have done seven years ago, five years ago. The fact of the matter is they knew about this decision two years ago with Wesley.”
However, the one good thing they could take from the meeting was the fact that Miranda can still graduate next year from CCS.
“I’m thrilled,” she said. “This is my school. I would not want to graduate from any other school. My graduating class is 40. I know every single person in my class.”
Teacher and cheerleading coach Robin Smith also wondered what would happen to the underclassmen that can’t come back.
“There are some kids in the class who don’t have many options,” Smith said. “They don’t come from money or privileged backgrounds. They can’t necessarily be trucked up to Wilmington or wherever.
“I’m glad we’re realizing our stewardship,” she said. “But that should have been done a long time ago.”