(FOX 9) - Parents lined up in front of the South Washington County School Center Wednesday to protest the school district’s plan to close Crestview Elementary School in Cottage Grove, Minnesota.
"The school itself is such an important part of the neighborhood and the teachers are amazing," said Katie Horton who is an alumnus of the school. Her son was also a student. "It’s just heartbreaking to even comprehend the fact that they would be closing it."
Parent Nikki Esser has two students currently enrolled. She told Fox 9 she loves that Crestview Elementary is one of the most diverse schools in the district.
"This is more than being a school. It’s a community," said Esser. "We pride ourselves on being an inclusive and equitable community. The mere thought of the school closing and our kids not being able to experience what it feels like to be a part of a bigger community than just a school is unfathomable."
Concerned parents said transferring the 375 students means overcrowding other classrooms in the district. The other concern is the nearest school is at least two miles away and would force children who rely on walking to catch the bus.
"For some of those kids, if they miss that bus in the morning, they are not able to get a ride from mom or dad," said Rebecca Cuellar, president of the school’s PTA. "Missing a bus means missing school and that would mean missing meals as well."
During a discussion at its Jan. 7 school board meeting, administrators recommended closing Crestview Elementary School at the end of the 2020-21 school year.
School district leaders said costs have been adding up over the last few years and have only gotten worse during the pandemic.
Closing the school will help make up for an $18 million deficit within the next three years.
"Anytime a school district has to enter into closing a school, it’s a difficult decision," said Julie Nielsen, the superintendent of South Washington County Schools.
Nielsen was promoted in September 2020 after serving as the district’s assistant superintendent for academic excellence and accountability.
According to the school district’s website, Crestview was chosen for its central location, which would allow students to transition to other neighborhood schools; the closure would save $1 million, and there would be no increase in school bus routes or transportation costs.
"When we talk about any budget adjustment or any budget cut, it typically means people and faces. For me, it means names," said Nielsen. "When we look at the need to reduce $18 million over three years, we know that it impacts our people, programs, and services […] these are really difficult decisions."
The School Board is expected to decide whether to close the school at its next meeting on Jan. 21. The community will be able to voice their concerns and give input before a final decision is made.
If the school closes, students will be able to finish out the school year. A transition team will be created that will include parents, staff, and the community.