GROVE CITY -- Despite pleas from parents to keep the small school open, the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School Board on Monday voted 4-3 to stop using the elementary school in Cosmos this fall and instead house all K-4 grade students in the elementary school in Atwater.
After the vote, most of the 50 or so people in the audience quietly got up and left. All were grim-faced and some were fighting back tears.
The "world has changed," Chairman Joel Gratz said after the vote, acknowledging that the lives of families in Cosmos, and the community itself, would never be the same once the town's students were no longer going to their neighborhood school.
The vote was taken following a presentation detailing the declining enrollment at Cosmos and decreasing revenues in the district.
That presentation also included concerns about what could happen if Cosmos was no longer used as an elementary school, including fears that families would choose to open-enroll their students to another district, which could mean the loss of student aid.
The school board used the hard data, as well as information from school administrators and members of the public who spoke during the meeting, to reach the decision.
Despite discussing the topic for more than a year, taking the actual vote on whether to keep Cosmos open or not was clearly not easy for the board members to make.
Board member Judy Raske spoke about the sense of community the three towns share by operating as one district.
Not using the Cosmos school would be like "cutting off an appendage," said Raske, who feared the district as a whole would be harmed by merging the elementary schools in Atwater and that ACGC could eventually become just AGC.
Board member Scott Stafford spoke strongly about the need to keep Cosmos open and said the board should explore new options, like haaving students who live close to Cosmos, yet choose to go to school in Atwater, attend school in Cosmos. He said the Cosmos community has sacrificed the most to keep the district financially stable.
"There's no easy answer," Gratz said, sympathizing with the emotional side of the decision-making process.
During the public comment period, parents called the positive education their children received in Cosmos and urged the board to find ways to keep the school operating
Amber Christianson, who said she was days away from giving birth, said she bought a home in Cosmos because the town has a school. She called the process unfair.
Business and community leaders from Cosmos submitted a letter asking the board to consider other options, like turning Cosmos into a magnet school, in order to keep the school and community alive.
John Boll told the board that it took cooperation from the three communities to build the new high school in the 1990s. He feared the decision could affect support from the community, putting future district levy referendums at risk.
Michelle Randt said the district's budget shouldn't be balanced "on the backs" of the Cosmos students and community.
With fewer than 60 students expected to attend Cosmos next year, the school board agreed it was no longer feasible to keep operating the facility when there was adequate space in Atwater.
Several people spoke about the positive aspects of having all the elementary staff and students in one building. Besides economic savings, Superintendent Sherri Broderius said there could be academic advantages for students.
The school board is also hoping that the Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative will continue to lease more space at the Cosmos school for its increasingly popular program for students with autism. Called the Cosmos Learning Center, the coop leases a wing of the school from ACGC. It's expected they could lease the entire space for programs within two years.
Broderius said the Cosmos school building will not be closed or shuttered, but will continue to educate students and employ local people. She said she hopes none of the students will leave the district.
After the vote was taken Stafford said the discussion and the vote represented a true democratic process and that the board now needed to focus on the next steps to make the changes.
"We've all got to move on," he said.
Voting to move the students to Atwater were: Gratz, Jeanna Lilleberg, Megan Morrison and Mike Hendrickson. Those voting against the motion: Lori Martin, Raske and Stafford.