Liberty Elementary will close in 2014

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By Tracy Harris

Oldham County Schools will operate with one fewer elementary school beginning with the 2014-15 school year and will force officials to redistrict the county.

Board of education members voted unanimously Monday to close Liberty Elementary at the end of the 2013-14 school year, despite indefinitely postponing building a new elementary in Brownsboro.

The almost 90-year-old Liberty Elementary is inadequate, officials say, and doesn’t provide students the same opportunities as the district’s newer facilities.

Renovations would cost about $6.7 million and still wouldn’t bring it up to state standards, says facilities director Jim Ewalt.

Liberty is the district’s smallest elementary in terms of square footage and the most costly in terms of energy expenditures.

“I’ve really struggled with this decision,” said board member Kevin Woosley. “I hate to do this to the families out there but it comes down to the data.”

Woosley’s district includes many of the students who attend Liberty, although the school itself is inside board chair Joyce Fletcher’s district.

When board members approved a master plan for a three-school, 95-acre campus at Ky. 329 and Halls Hill Road in October 2010, they also planned to close Liberty.

But last month, board members agreed Brownsboro Elementary construction should wait based on revised enrollment projections.

Currently, the district’s 10 elementary schools are at 85.4 percent combined capacity — a figure superintendent Will Wells has said is nearly perfect.

With just nine elementaries in 2014-15, capacity will near 90 percent — but enrollment will decline in the years following.

Recently-released 2009 statistics show a drastic decrease in Oldham County live births, one figure used to project kindergarten enrollment.

When children born in 2009 enter kindergarten in two years, new projections estimate the class size at 703 students — far below previous projections of 920.

From 1998-2008, the number of live births averaged 546 annually, with peaks in 2003 (580 births) and 2007 (576).

The figure remained fairly constant until 2009, when it fell to just 501 — the lowest in about a decade.

With nine elementaries, capacity will drop to 87.6 percent for 2015-16 and to the sweet-spot of 85 percent in 2016-17. 

Birth rates across the U.S. have dropped since 2007, widely considered to be a result of the recession — and there’s no way to project when they’ll begin to increase again.

However, school officials now have access to more timely birth data from the Oldham County Health Department. 

According to Michael Williams, director of pupil personnel, the health department figure is less accurate, since not all out-of-county births are reported, but should give officials an earlier alert to changing trends.

Williams told board members in October that closing Liberty and postponing Brownsboro would likely lead to redistricting the entire county. 

The redistricting process takes about a year, Williams said, but there’s little more officials can tell parents until the process begins.