State shutting down SW Iowa school district

Posted at 12:46 AM, Nov 19, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-19 01:46:30-05

After years of fighting to keep its doors open, the final 35 minutes of the Farragut Community Schools’ fateful day were among the most difficult Wednesday.

The school board called a special meeting to answer community questions following a decision in Des Moines to yank the school district’s accreditation Wednesday. Board members sat center court in the Nishnabotna Blue Devils’ gymnasium facing a crowd of questions—many of which they could not fully answer.

"[Our school] is something that I believe in,” said Board President, Jennifer Varellas, “I would have never given up until [the state] told us absolutely no more.”

The Iowa Board of Education unanimously voted to remove the school’s accreditation and close the Farragut Community School district Wednesday, citing overspending and other noncompliance concerns.

“I was sad. I lost it. There were tears; a lot of tears. We've been fighting for a couple years now,” said Wendy Gardner, a teacher and coach at Farragut, who also has children enrolled in the school.

“It wasn't unexpected, but at the same time to experience the finality of it and to process what it means was pretty sad,” Superintendent Tom Hinrichs said.

Hinrichs blamed declining enrollment as a major reason for the district’s problems, saying the school currently serves 107 students, but 75 others open enroll to other Southwest Iowa Schools. The district tapped its reserves to balance books, overspending by hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years.

The loss means the closure of a major Farragut employer—it means people like Gardner will lose their jobs.

“The last thing I think about is my job. I'm here most of us teach because of kids. That's why we're here,” she said.

After the 35-minute special meeting, residents hugged each other, while some looked unwilling to give up the fight.

The district was also placed in receivership. An education agency must now make financial decisions leading up to the closure. District officials expressed hope that the agency would take board advice into accounts.

“I'm still very proud. I can't say that we failed our students at this point. We went out with a bang. They've been offered good education and everything, so I'm very proud of that," Varellas said.

The state will redraw boundary lines following the closure of Farragut.

The district shares several positions and programs with nearby Hamburg school district. Officials there are now making plans for their future, and asking questions too.

The Hamburg Community School District will hold a meeting November 24.