DeKalb County BOE approves closure of Moon Lake Elementary School in Mentone
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DEKALB COUNTY, Ala. – A small, tight-knit elementary school in DeKalb County is closing at the end of this school year.
It’s something parents and community members in Mentone have been fighting for decades.
They continued that fight at a community meeting ahead of the school board’s vote on closure.
Moon Lake Elementary School’s motto is “Solidly Grounded, Moving Forward”.
The K-6 school with fewer than 60 students sits atop Lookout Mountain in the eclectic town of Mentone.
“Coming to the school as a principal has been a privilege as it has truly opened my eyes to how staff, parents and the community can affect students, the school community and children’s learning” , said current manager Mary Lance.
The DeKalb County School Board unanimously approved the school’s closure at its regular board meeting.
“It’s a very difficult decision. It’s not what I want to do, it’s not what I like to do,” said DeKalb County School Board Superintendent Jason Barnett.
Barnett told News 19 that it would cost $240,000 to fund one teacher in every classroom at Moon Lake Elementary School.
He also said the child nutrition program’s debt is growing every year.
“If every student ate lunch and breakfast every day during the 180-day school year, we wouldn’t have enough revenue to match employee wages and benefits. And that’s not counting the cost of food, the cost of electricity, water, gas, sanitation and all the other things that we do. Last year, the program had a debt of approximately $63,000. We are not able to fund our entire school this way, so we cannot fund any of our schools this way,” Barnett added.
At a community meeting ahead of the final vote, many pleaded with the council to find solutions to keep it open.
“A community without a school has no future. Why would anyone want to move there and raise their kids there if they can’t go to the school that’s right in their community,” said mother Jessica Harper-Brown.
Harper-Brown said the low enrollment was due to the pandemic.
Barnett said that was not the case.
He shared with News 19 that enrollment has fallen from 129 students in 2006 to 57 in 2020.
He said he thinks Mentone is becoming more of a tourist and retiree community, which may be the cause of the drop in listings.
After the announcement of the closure, a parent attacked the school board.
“How could a school of 55 students accumulate $600,000 in debt for the canteen? I’ve been asking these questions for six months. I never saw an answer,” an unidentified relative shouted at the council before leaving the meeting.
Other community members said they are now looking to the future.
“Our community will rise again. We will provide our children with what we need to provide. It’s just frustrating that we don’t feel like we’ve heard from the school board that is actually working with us. This community meeting really meant nothing. They had already decided to close Moon Lake,” said Sarah Wilcox, executive director of the Mentone Educational Resources Foundation (MERF).
MERF provided the school with volunteer tutors and art teachers.
“Of course, we’re disappointed because we’ve worked hard for many, many decades to keep the school open. The school has been a wonderful achievement for Mentone and for Alabama, so that’s disappointing, but we understand said former manager Bill Berry.
Berry started first grade at Moon Lake Elementary in 1963, before returning as a teacher in 1981 and later becoming the principal in 1994.
He remained director for 13 years.
“I see this not as an end but as a new beginning because I think the community can use the facility for something wonderful in the community,” Berry added.
Barnett said the school district also hopes to use the campus as a “legacy hub” for field trips, etc., to continue community enrichment for all DeKalb County students.
Moon Lake Elementary School students are zoned for Valley Head High School, but can apply for schools in the city of Fort Payne.
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