School board questioned about Irving's future

·3 min read

Oct. 20—Parents and a former administrator say they want Muskogee Public Schools to keep Irving Elementary in their long-range plans.

Several spoke to the Muskogee Board of Education at its regular meeting Tuesday night. They said 1100 N. J St. has been left off construction projects funded by the $110 million bond issue voters passed in 2019.

Dennis Wilhite, Irving principal from 1998 to 2000, said Irving patrons were promised a $1 million renovation with passage of the bond issue.

"The parents of Irving deserve to have a right to know the short- and long-term plans for their school," he said. "You as a board have that responsibility to inform them of any changes — and why."

Another speaker, John Cruz, said Irving has the largest population of Hispanic students in the district.

"And it's very convenient for students in the whole community," he said.

Muskogee School Superintendent Jarod Mendenhall said the district's Long-Range Planning Committee will look at possibilities "down the road."

"Any of the people who spoke here tonight or anybody else, I have actually added them to this committee," Mendenhall said. "Anyone who wants to be a part of it can be a part of it."

He said the committee will meet Thursday at Alice Robertson 8th and 9th Grade Academy.

"We're not just discussing Irving, we're discussing the district," he said. "So you have to look at it from a lens that's much larger than Irving Elementary."

He said the committee could collect data at that meeting, then would meet again in December and in February to prepare any recommendations for the March school board meeting.

Mendenhall said the district is pausing a lot of construction projects because of the price of construction materials.

Wilhite said Mendenhall had invited him to join the Long-Range Planning Committee.

"We'll see after we get on the planning committee what they do," he said.

The notion of possibly closing Irving was broached at a March meeting of the MPS Long-Range Planning Committee.

At that meeting, Mendenhall said MPS enrollment has fallen steadily from 2017. He said consolidation of school sites could allow the district to "better utilize our facilities rather than having school buildings well below their capacity."

That consolidation resulted in temporarily closing Grant Foreman Sixth Grade Academy for a year, potentially saving $350,000 in utility costs and personnel.

At the March planning committee meeting, Mendenhall said Grant Foreman could reopen as an elementary and Irving students would relocate there. At the time, he said Grant Foreman is well-equipped to handle more students and that Irving is on a busy street and on property that makes it hard to renovate.

The possible future relocation and Irving closure was not presented to the board.

At Tuesday's school board meeting, Diana White, whose grandson goes to Irving, said many parents walk their children to the school.

"A lot of them do not drive because they do not have transportation," she said. "They are really concerned about being transported."

White said the school does need changes and renovations.

"But I don't think closing it down is an option," she said.

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