Fort Lewis parents fight to keep school
SALEM – With the Rt. 11-460 road widening construction obscuring the entrance into Fort Lewis Elementary School and weeds growing in front of the school’s bright blue-and-white sign, the neighborhood school established in 1928 shows both its pride and its age.
The school that has centered the community that shares its name is on the chopping block – again – as a Roanoke County school to be closed as a cost-cutting measure. Roanoke County School officials say the county can save about $450,000 a year by closing Fort Lewis and moving about half of the 223 students to Glenvar Elementary School and the others to Masons Cove Elementary.
Parents are fighting to keep Fort Lewis open, though.
“I’m sorry to hear this because Fort Lewis is a good little school. I’m surprised it would come up this early, finding out about it two days before school opens. When our board meets we hope to get a plan in place so we can save the school,” PTA President Mike Keen said. “I want to do everything I can.”
He and his wife Jeannie have a daughter, Olivia, who is in second grade, and 4-year-old Christian, who would go to Fort Lewis.
“Obviously we are very disappointed. We’re hoping this is a worst-case scenario and it’s not going to come to fruition,” said Barb Fraticelli. “We are doing what we can to make sure the school doesn’t close.”
Keen and Fraticelli pointed out the PTA board hasn’t met yet to discuss anything specific, “but I’m sure we’re going to work hard to fight for our school,” added Fraticelli, who is vice president for membership for the PTA.
She and her husband, Tom, have two children at Fort Lewis and should have a kindergartener there next year, “If all goes well.” Their children are Cecilia who is in fourth grade, and Josie in second grade. Nicholas, 4, is scheduled to go to Fort Lewis next year.
“My understanding is the county would redistrict our neighborhood, Kings Crest, to Masons Cove. I’m not sure what we would do at that point,” she said.
Like other parents, Keen, Fraticelli and past president Tina Bourne found out about the possibility Fort Lewis would be closed by next school year from reading an article in The Roanoke Times after a Saturday school board work session on Aug. 18. The school has been mentioned three years ago and again last year. This time, Bourne is concerned the threat is serious.
“I think it is really unfortunate the school board is not exploring other options,” said Bourne. “I believe they could refinance on the building loans, and a lot of smaller things. This is such a large amount in one place” to save by closing the school. “I think the school board sees it as a quick fix.”
The area from which students come is still developing, Bourne pointed out. Russlyn Farms on the south side of Rt. 460 has 200 lots still to build, and a potential of additional houses off Mill Lane that would be in Fort Lewis’ area, as well.
The Roanoke County School Board meeting on Aug. 18 brought out that air conditioning the gym at Fort Lewis is being put on hold until a decision is made about the school. “That, to me, is a sign that they’re pretty serious about deciding to close it this time,” Bourne said.
She added, “What a way to start the year. It puts such a damper on the children and their learning, and the morale of the teachers.”
Bourne and her husband, Gene, have two daughters with ties to Fort Lewis: Madison attended all six years at Fort Lewis and is now at Glenvar Middle School. Callie is in third grade at Fort Lewis.
Some parents have theories as to why the Roanoke County School Board is considering closing the school. One who did not want to be quoted by name said, “Last year the School Board passed a 3 percent pay raise and now they have to make cuts to pay for those raises. It seems to me they would have had more than the $450,000 that would be saved if there had only been a 1 percent raise.”
Fort Lewis parents are appealing to Catawba District School Board Member David Wymer to be their advocate.
“He is always very supportive of our school. We’re very pleased with him. He’s always been a good advocate for us in the past,” Fraticelli said.
“I really feel he will be behind us,” added Keen.