By ERIN SANSON
In January the Bond County Community Unit School District No. 2 School Board voted to close the Sorento School at the end of the 2022 school year.
Reasons for closing were due to falling enrollment, an increase in the cost of doing business and labor shortages.
The 107 students of Sorento were set to be divided between Pocahontas and Greenville for school. Some parents and community members objected to the school closure and looked for ways to keep the Sorento school open.
Sorento parents came together and collected over 900 signatures hoping to separate the Sorento School from the Bond County School District. A petition was then sent to Vandalia, where the Regional Office of Education is located, outlining a plan to be annexed into the Mt. Olive School district.
Roughly 75 percent of registered voters in the area and nearly 63 percent of land owners in the Sorento School Boundary signed the petition in favor of separation.
A hearing was held on Aug. 30 to make a final decision on separation. The board had to determine if there was enough educational benefit to the students to justify separating Sorento from the Bond County School District.
Wes Olson, Bond County Superintendent estimated the district could lose up to $800,000 a year if the annexation to Mt. Olive went through.
The Regional Board of School Trustees, after five hours of debate, voted 6-1 to deny separation, “based on no evidence of direct educational benefit to the students,” said Julie Wollerman, regional superintendent.
Bond School Board Member Stephanie Gerl, a native of Sorento, formerly said she felt that closing the school would decrease community and parental involvement and support. Due to the distance between Sorento and Pocahontas and Greenville it was also pointed out that some students would take over an hour to get to and from school on the bus. Gerl suggested the extra effort, time and expenses would dissuade children and parents from participating in school events and activities.
Concern for Sorento itself was presented to the board. It was feared that with no school, people would be unwilling to move there.
Supporters of the school called the school the linchpin of the community. Gerl was quoted by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as saying, “Nobody’s going to move here because there’s no school. They’re just going to let it sit there and rot. You’re going to end up with an empty town.”
Though the petition for annexation was denied, the people fighting for Sorento Elementary School have not given up yet. According to Gerl, there are plans to appeal the decision and possibly form a charter school.