Williamsburg residents fear if school goes, so will town

WILLIAMSBURG, Kan. - Voters in one Kansas school district have a huge decision to make on June 4. They must decide to either keep two elementary schools open or consolidate to one building.

In Williamsburg, residents say the town's survival is in the balance.

The West Franklin School District has around 630 students. Ten years ago, more than 900 kids attended classes in the district.

With declining enrollment, the district is trying to stay viable. The June bond issue would cost taxpayers $14,320,000 over 30 years and close two elementary schools in Appanoose and Williamsburg.

"No one wants to close a school," West Franklin Superintendent Dotson Bradbury said. "Economically, we can't afford to operate three campuses."

If the issue passes, the district would consolidate all buildings into one campus in Pomona. The money would pay for several improvements to current facilities and create one large building housing students in all grade levels.

It has people in Williamsburg worried about losing all their remaining students. A reconfiguration in 2007 moved middle schoolers and high schoolers to Pomona, and now around 120 elementary school students remain.

Lifelong resident Elston Horne said the loss of high school athletics instantly slowed down the already-quiet town.

"People would come in and go to the ball games and then would go down to Guy and Mae's and eat barbeque," Horne said.

Guy and Mae's owner Judy Simpson said business is still good, but Friday nights just aren't the same.

"It was usually pretty full the whole night," Simpson said.

Residents said losing the first round of students was painful enough and they don't want to see it again.

"It just took a lot out of our community," Horne said.

A spike in property tax rates is another concern for Williamsburg residents.

If the bond issue is approved, the new school in Pamona could open by fall 2015.

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