INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – Thompson Magnet Elementary School parents packed into the County Commission Chambers Tuesday night pleading to keep their school open as is. Instead, the School Board decided in a 4-1 vote to convert the magnet school into a voluntary pre-kindergarten and adult education center.
School Board Chairwoman Karen Disney-Brombach was the lone dissenter, expressing concern that the board had not been given enough time to consider the issue.
“I’m not convinced this is where we need to be going,” she said, drawing cheers from the nearly-standing-room-only-sized crowd.
She added that she was “distressed” that the district spent more time with parents at Osceola Magnet discussing their students’ future move to a new campus than the district did with parents at a school that could close.
Half of Thompson Magnet’s students are expected to be reassigned to their home school. However, approximately 160 were zoned for Thompson. Where those students would go remains to be determined.
The School Board expects to start the rezoning process in about six weeks to determine new boundaries for Citrus Elementary, Glendale, and Vero Beach elementaries.
School officials are considering shifting 26 Citrus students to Glendale and 99 students to Vero Beach.
Thompson parent Scott Smiarowski told the board prior to its vote that he’s had three children attend Thompson in 12 years and all have succeeded.
One child, who is in Exceptional Student Education and has special needs, has thrived at the school, he said.
“I don’t know what you’re thinking,” Smiarowski told the board. “Everybody’s great” at Thompson.
Another parent, James Davis, shared with the School Board that his son, a second grader, has done well at the school and is in the High Achievers program.
“He’s been challenged every day,” Davis said, adding that he’s concerned his son wouldn’t be as challenged at any other school.
Davis also told the board that closing the school would effectively sever relationships his son has established with the teachers and staff, not to mention strain the friendships he has cultivated with classmates he’s known since kindergarten.
Each of the School Board members agreed that the decision to discontinue Thompson Magnet was a difficult one, brought about by the lack of attendance and budgetary constraints.
Both board members Matt McCain and Claudia Jimenez told the audience that this is just the beginning of the cuts the district will have to make in order to come up with a balanced budget.
“This is going to get a lot worse,” McCain said of what officials are expecting in terms of state and federal funding next year.
Superintendent Dr. Harry La Cava had made the proposal last month during a budget workshop, explaining that the district would be able to save more than $375,000 annually by eliminating non-core staffing positions at the school.
“Teachers and staff gave it a good go, there’s no doubt about it,” La Cava said. “We were committed. We thought we could pull this off.”
However, with the opening of a new charter school to the west that drew students from Thompson and the budget being what it was, he said that ending Thompson Magnet is a necessity.
La Cava hinted that there may be a chance the magnet school could return once children start coming into the county and the economy turns around.
“The board received some wonderful heart-wrenching stories,” board member Carol Johnson said. “Unfortunately, we have to get up to that 30,000-foot level where we don’t see the faces.”
She asked Thompson parents to approach their new/home schools with the same sense of dedication they had approached the magnet school.
“I applaud the effort of staff,” board member Debbie MacKay said of trying to keep the school open, adding that she agrees with the affirmations the parents have shared about the school.
“Thompson Middle can look its community in the face with pride,” she said.