Declining enrollment may close east side school

Declining enrollment could prompt Muskogee Public Schools to close a school building, move sixth and eighth grades into other buildings and convert Whittier Elementary into an E-Learning Academy.

In a recent meeting with the MPS Long Range Planning Committee, Superintendent Jarod Mendenhall said consolidation of school sites could allow the district to "better utilize our facilities rather than having school buildings well below their capacity."

Mendenhall said district enrollment has fallen steadily since 2017, when MPS had an average daily enrollment of 6,028 students. Average daily enrollment for the 2020-21 school year was listed at 4,795, down from 5,385 in the 2019-20 school year.

The Long Range Planning Committee will present proposed changes to the Muskogee Board of Education at its next regular meeting, March 23.

Proposed changes to secondary schools involve moving the sixth grade in with the seventh grade at the former Ben Franklin Science Academy. Sixth-graders currently are at the former Grant Foreman Elementary. Eighth-graders would move from the former BFSA to join freshmen at the rebuilt Alice Robertson Junior High Building.

Most of the former Alice Robertson Junior High was demolished and is being rebuilt as a freshman academy. The rebuilding was part of the $110 million bond issue.

School figures show that the rebuilt AR would be at 94.4 percent capacity if both eighth- and ninth-graders attend. The BFSA building, originally a middle school, would be at 75.5 percent capacity with both sixth- and seventh-graders. 

School officials propose closing the Grant Foreman building for the 2021-22 school years, which could save about $100,000 in utility costs and about $250,000 in personnel.

Another proposal would convert Whittier Elementary into an E-Learning Academy. Mendenhall said the academy would allow students on year-round virtual learning to have in-person instruction when needed. Whittier's oldest classroom wing was demolished last spring after a sewer line under the building collapsed. That left only 12 classrooms, Mendenhall said. 

Whittier students would be dispersed through the remaining five elementary districts — Creek, Cherokee, Irving, Pershing and Tony Goetz.

Muskogee High School would serve grades 10-12, as approved in the 2019 bond issue. Rougher Alternative Academy and Sadler Arts Academy would remain unchanged.

In the future, Grant Foreman could reopen as an elementary, and Irving students would relocate there, Mendenhall said.

He said Grant Foreman is well-equipped to hold a larger student capacity. Irving is on a busy street and on property that makes it hard to renovate or grow to best serve student needs, Mendenhall said. He said that leaving Grant Foreman closed for a year would allow the building to be renovated with no students present.

The future relocation is not part of the proposal to be presented to the board.

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