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Community fights to save Point Comfort school

By KBell
April 5, 2011 at 9:05 p.m.
Updated April 4, 2011 at 11:05 p.m.

Logan Pettijohn

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Calhoun County School District's Board of Trustee's meeting

WHEN: April 11 at 5:30 p.m.

WHERE: Administration Building boardroom, 525 N. Commerce St., Port Lavaca

OTHER PROPOSED CUTS

Calhoun High School's French program

At Seadrift, the counselor's position would become part time, and an unnamed teaching position and the band director's position would be eliminated

One teaching and one counseling position at Port O'Connor

One teaching position at Hope High School

Four teaching positions from both Jackson-Roosevelt Elementary School and Harrison-Jefferson-Madison Elementary

Wilson said the budget cuts will be across the entire district, including all academic departments, athletics, maintenance and administration. The cuts involving employees' contracts have to go through several steps to be approved, which is why they must be declared as soon as possible, she said.

Styrofoam cups in a chain-link fence spelled out their plea: "Please save our school. Take care of our teachers."

The Point Comfort Elementary School cafeteria was standing room only, and about two dozen people spoke out about the proposed closing of the school to the Calhoun County School District's Board of Trustees at a public meeting Tuesday night.

Second to take the microphone was 9-year-old Logan Pettijohn.

"I have a good education here," he read from a letter he wrote. "This school holds many memories. If you can find it in your heart, please don't close down my school."

Tears filled the eyes of the crowd and a few board members, and the group gave the fourth-grader a standing ovation.

With the state Legislature proposing cutting between 5 and 10 percent of the education budget, Calhoun County is just one of several school districts struggling to make cuts.

Superintendent Billy Wiggins said the district is aiming to shed 7.5 percent of its budget, or $2.5 million.

Closing Point Comfort Elementary School, which has 77 students and five teachers, could save between $550,000 and $600,000.

"Be mavericks. There are other ways," pleaded Candy Williams, a Point Comfort resident. "I feel that if busing is good enough for our kids to go across the bridge, it's good enough for some Port Lavaca kids to come over here and make it feasible to keep this school open."

Harrison-Jefferson-Madison and Jackson-Roosevelt elementary schools are in Port Lavaca, about a six-mile trek across the Lavaca Bay.

Several people told the board they moved from those elementary schools to Point Comfort, where smaller class sizes have improved their kids' education. Several more mentioned the school's continued exemplary status.

Amanda Cervantes, who moved three years ago, told the story of her son who had been diagnosed with ADHD, but through the attention of his teachers, has become a better student.

"For the past two years, he hasn't had to take his medicine because of this school," she said, letting tears flow. "For a parent not to have their son on medication, it's a big deal for you. This school is our family."

One after another, parents and former students praised the staff for their work and remarked that the school was the heart of the small community. Tissues littered the table of teachers, who also received a standing ovation at the end of the meeting.

"I have to say that the staff of Point Comfort Elementary certainly have to be gratified by the showing of support and outpouring of affection," school board President Brenda Wilson said after adjourning the hour-and-a-half meeting. "I couldn't help but be impressed by the depth and feelings of their pride in this school."

Wiggins said he agreed that the quality of the school was commendable, but smaller schools were just not efficient to run.

"We run them as efficiently as possible now," he said. "The board has to make decisions that are very tough and also in the best interest of the entire district."

Wiggins said if the district decides to close the school, it would try to re-purpose the facilities so that they're still a staple in the community.

"Our schools are community and faces and people with real lives," he said.

After the meeting, Logan was still fired up about the possible closing.

"I don't want the school board people to separate me and my friends and make teachers not have jobs," he said. "I understand that the people are saying the only reason people are here is because of my school."

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