Galesburg School Board votes to close Cooke Elementary

Emotions erupted in Galesburg, Illinois, Monday night after the Board of Education voted unanimously to close Cooke Elementary School.

Located at 849 South Henderson Street, Cooke is the smallest of Galesburg’s six elementary schools. Administrators said the decision primarily comes in light of funding cuts from the State of Illinois, and will likely result in savings of more than $930,000.

“Personally, I feel terrible,” said Superintendent Bart Arthur after Monday’s meeting. “Cooke just isn’t efficient, and that doesn’t mean it isn’t good.”

Cooke has only one class per grade level, some with only 11 or 15 students, which Arthur says is unacceptable in today’s economy.

“We’re in a tough financial state, and it’s hard to justify how some schools have classes of 23 or 24, and Cooke has 11 or 17,” said Arthur.

The school is also in violation of Illinois’ special education law, or 70/30 rule. The law requires no more than 30 percent of a classroom to be made up of special education students, and administrators said many rooms were “way over compliance.”

The unanimous vote, though, was met with tears and anger from many parents who left the meeting amid shouts.

“I’m just disgusted,” said parent Marcy Rocha. “We are a community at Cooke. That’s all we have over there.”

Rocha said it’s the small class sizes at Cooke that have made a big difference for her children.

“My youngest daughter has massive, massive allergies. At Cooke, they tend to her because they can, because there are only 20 students in a classroom,” said Rocha.

Ten speakers took the podium in front of a standing-room-only crowd to voice support for the school.

“All these parents and students are the ones that will suffer because somebody wants to put a dollar sign on a child’s hair,” said one speaker.

“The had another option: show some political courage and try to go for a referendum to increase the property tax for the education fund,” said another supporter, Jim Jacobs.

Arthur said the decision will mean the elimination of seven staff positions at Cooke. The school will close beginning with the 2014-2015 school year.

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