School board to revisit DLR closure next month

OREGON — The Oregon School Board will vote again in February on whether or not to continue with its plan to close the David L. Rahn Junior High School in Mt. Morris after this school year.

The move comes one week after the Mt. Morris Village Board approved a resolution urging school board members to reconsider its August vote.

“Things are different now than what they were in August,” said Bruce Obendorf, during Tuesday’s second public hearing on the closure. “When will the board decide if you will re-vote?”

Obendorf, a former school board member and member of an advisory board formed last year to seek input concerning the closure of the school, was one of 9 people who spoke during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s hearing.

The public comment period followed a presentation by administrators who outlined how the merger would create elective courses for junior high students and streamline educational efforts.

In May 2021, Oregon Superintendent Tom Mahoney proposed closing the school and moving seventh- and eighth-graders into the the high school. He cited decreasing enrollments and increasing maintenance costs at DLR as reasons for the closure. On Aug. 16, school board members voted 5-2 to close the school.

Tuesday night, Mt. Morris Village President Phil Labash read a letter from the village’s attorney that said the school district had not held the required three public hearings before voting to close the school.

“At this time we respectfully request that the board follow the applicable statute and conduct all three necessary public hearings—and this is the important part — prior to voting on the issue,” Labash said. “It is the village’s position that the closure vote was in error and therefore the Aug. 16 is void as a matter of law.”

Last week, Rob Urish, a former school board member and also a member of the advisory board, said the closure was not a “done deal” and that the school board was apparently ignorant of an Illinois law that became effective July 30 that requires three public hearings to solicit input from communities regarding the closure of a school unless the building is deemed to be unsafe, unsanitary or unfit for occupancy.

On Tuesday, Urish said test scores from the state’s report card indicated that Oregon’s performance was “not very good” when compared with surrounding schools. He said the focus should be improving test scores.

“To continue to ‘tinker around’ and waste administration and staff time with the effort to close DLR is analogous to ‘re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic’. Continuing to do so will not further our children’s education, and will likely exacerbate their already poor test results,” he said. “We think there is a very serious systemic problem here.”

A third public hearing on the closure plan as well as the regular school board meeting are both scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 22.

Oregon School Board President Bryan Wills said the board will vote again Feb. 22.

“We are re-voting to be in compliance with the law that was passed just before our original vote. We will rescind the August vote before re-voting on the DLR closure and the acceptance of the Jr./Sr. High plan,” Wills said in an email Wednesday morning.

Earleen Hinton

Earleen oversees production and content of 9 community weeklies and has worked for Shaw Newspapers since 1985.