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The end of the road; Galien Township Schools to close their doors

GALIEN TOWNSHIP, Mich. – After a rollercoaster year of doubt and dread, the struggling school district has thrown in the towel.

On Wednesday morning students will be let go at 11:15.  Just weeks ago, the school board voted to keep the doors open to a limited number of grades next year.

At the time, it was estimated that about 40 students would be attending in the fall.

But the school wanted to make sure they were going to get that many, and started to make calls to get commitments from parents when word started rolling in that Galien students were applying to other districts through school of choice.

In the end, Galien only had 22 students committed to coming to the district next fall; not nearly enough to keep the doors open according to Tim Allard, Superintendent for Galien Township Schools.

Now the five teachers and 4 support staff will have to find new jobs. Many of the teachers have already applied to other districts according to Allard.

As for the 22 students who committed to Galien Township Schools, they will be allowed to go to Buchannan schools, as will any of their siblings currently going to River Valley.

Meanwhile, some community members are sorry to see the school go.

A worker at one of the few businesses in town was concerned. Without the school, they felt it would be difficult to attract businesses to the town, let alone keep one a float.

Other community members were nonplused, saying they were not surprised or had seen it coming.

Many parents admitted they pulled their students out of the school as things started to go downhill; but student decline has been an ongoing problem for years.

In the mid 2000’s the district shut its High School down, because it could not afford to keep it open.

Allard says, several things came together that ultimately caused the school to close.

One of those things is school of choice. Parents who wanted their students to have access to the special extras Galien could not offer started the ball rolling.

As enrollment continued to decline, the school could offer less and less to students which caused more and more to seek out other districts that could offer the extracurricular activities or special classes.

Enrollment spiraled down and because school districts can no longer seek a millage to support their financial needs, the purse strings grew tighter and tighter.

In addition to all of that, Galien itself is not getting any bigger.

With several businesses in the middle of town dried up and gone, several community members are concerned things will only get worse without the school district to anchor businesses here.

A weather beaten sign near the heart of town boasts the re-birth of Galien; and while it is full of flyers for upcoming events, one cannot help but wonder when that re-birth is going to happen.

Craig Weaks, the only school board member to vote against closing the district Monday night, says he isn’t giving up hope.

But it will be a tall task to get the school up and running again. Not only will they have to have their financial house in order, but they must have interest from students.

The district still owes roughly $300,000 to the state for miscounting students and receiving more support than they should have. Then there are the loans, and utility costs just to keep the enormous high school building open.

According to Allard, even if they were to win their appeal and have their debt to the state wiped out, the $100,000 that has already been paid would be enough for roughly two teacher’s salaries.

It is not the debt or the bills that killed this district, according to Allard, it was the lack of students and the community’s insistence on sending their children elsewhere.

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