Voters Deciding Fate Of School District

Monday, February 12th 2007, 10:10 am
By: News On 6

An Oklahoma school may soon close its doors for good. News On 6 reporter Chris Wright reports the communities that make up the Tar Creek Superfund site are deciding the fate of their school system today.

With a federal buyout underway, enrollment at Picher-Cardin schools is already down significantly. Tuesday, residents of Picher and Cardin are voting on whether to close their schools and allow the district to be annexed by neighboring towns. If the proposed annexation passes, schools would close forever on July 1st, and students would head to either Quapaw or Commerce. Picher-Cardin Superintendent Bob Walker says dwindling enrollment and a lack of teachers prompted the vote.

"We had employees that were concerned about long-term security,” he said. “We lost 18 teachers, all of our coaches, one administrator, they took jobs in other districts.”

After evidence emerged saying much of the area is at risk of caving in, Senator Jim Inhofe agreed to back a federally funded buyout of the Tar Creek Superfund site. Residents are expected to begin receiving checks for their homes in the next few months, and many have already moved or pulled their kids out of school. The district usually averages 415 students in grades K-12. This year, there are only 140 kids enrolled.

Regardless of whether the annexation is approved, the school is the centerpiece of the small community, and everyone involved says it's been a difficult issue to deal with.

"I don't really think anyone ever dreams of their hometown dissolving, certainly not the school they graduated from, or currently enrolled in," Walker said.

Picher Housing Authority Chairman and former school board member John Sparkman agrees, but says postponing the inevitable does not makes sense.

"The end of the school will come,” Sparkman said. “It's best to do things now while we have some control over what could be done."

And even if the vote passes and the playground remains empty, Sparkman believes some things will last forever.

"Of course the buildings will not be here, but they can't take away memories. No one can ever take that from you," he said.

If voters decide to go ahead with the annexation, the Commerce and Quapaw school districts each stand to receive several hundred thousand dollars from "The School Consolidation Assistance Fund." If the annexation fails, administrators say they will do everything in their power to keep Picher-Cardin schools up and running next year.