Mt. Morris may lose its only school: Junior high needs $6 million in repairs

MT. MORRIS – It needs $6 million in repairs and is draining the district’s budget to the tune of $400,000 a year.

That’s why Oregon Schools Superintendent Tom Mahoney is advising the board to close David L. Rahn Junior High School – the village’s sole remaining school – at the end of the 2021-22 school year, and moving students to Oregon High.

Mahoney “did not come to this recommendation lightly,” he said in a letter to school families that he also posted Wednesday on social media.

The recommendation, which he will make at next week’s board meeting, is based on the district’s finances – it has been operating more than $400,000 in the red for 5 years, in part because of what it costs to maintain the 66-year-old building at 105 W. Brayton Road, he said in the letter.

“While we had built a comfortable operating fund surplus in previous years, this 5-year trend is not sustainable,” he said.

In addition, the 10-year Health, Life, Safety survey of the district’s buildings, which was done in the fall, shows that nearly $6 million in state-mandated improvements are needed.

Other measures to cut spending already have been undertaken, Mahoney said. For example, over the last 5 years, teaching staff has been cut 14%, administrative staff 28%, he noted.

Last year, when he saw the writing on the wall, Mahoney commissioned a study from the University of Illinois at Springfield to determine the best solution.

Closing DLR will save the district more than $200,000 a year in operational costs, the study concluded.

“Those savings, along with COVID federal funding and rising tax revenues (based on increased property values, not increased tax rates) should ensure the district is on sound financial footing moving forward,” Mahoney said in the letter.

He and DLR Principal Heidi Deininger have created an initial plan – one that is in the draft phase only – to have all seventh- through 12th-grade students, about 200 in all, housed at Oregon High School.

“This plan maximizes educational opportunities for our students while limiting most social interactions between junior high and high school students,” Mahoney said.

The pros:

• If the junior high students move to the high school, they will have access to additional elective courses.

• If the junior high faculty moves to the high school, they will be able to align the curriculum more closely and provide more frequent opportunities for staff to collaborate.

The move also would bring more coaches/sponsors to a building where some sports/activities have no coaches in the building, again allowing for more staff collaboration while also giving younger athletes more immediate exposure to older athletes, Mahoney wrote.

The board meets at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Oregon High School, 206 S. 10th St. in Oregon. It will not act on the recommendation.

Kathleen A. Schultz

Kathleen Schultz is a Sterling native with 40 years of reporting and editing experience in Arizona, California, Montana and Illinois.