Fate of school in need of renovation with only 13 pupils to be subject of referendum

The future of the Finstersee school on the outskirts of Menzingen has been a topic of discussion for some time. On account of the small number of pupils, just 13 at present, and the building in need of renovation, the local council has wanted to close it for some time; only opposition from locals and the dedication of its teacher has kept it going. Now it has been announced a definitive decision about the school’s future is to be taken in a referendum on Sunday 4 March.
In an interview with the Zuger Zeitung, the mayor of Menzingen, Peter Dittli (second photograph), spoke about the council’s view of the situation.
As in the case of all referenda held in Switzerland, the government, canton or municipality advises citizens on how they should vote. In this case, after much careful thought, the council in Menzingen is recommending locals vote for the closure of the school. Dittli mentioned that the council had a duty to maintain the high quality of schools and kindergarten facilities in the locality but it was also under financial restraint. In order to ensure high standards were maintained, it was thought better for pupils if provision for schools and out-of-school care was concentrated in the centre of the municipality of Menzingen with the school in nearby Finstersee closing.
Dittli further explained that the reasons for the council’s decision were based on the welfare of the children and the finances available. He mentioned how the number of children attending school in Menzingen had fallen considerably in recent years, the number in Finstersee now at a critical level. It was further pointed out that pupils in classes 1-4 at Finstersee could easily be accommodated at the school in Menzingen without having more than 18 pupils is any one class, while at the same time obviating the need for renovation of the Finstersee premises.
When it was put to the mayor to explain why the council had resorted to a referendum in this matter, when local supporters of the school (Verein Finstersee.ch) had suggested an alternative way of deciding on the school’s future, Dittli said a plebiscite was chosen as this was an important issue for all the citizens of Menzingen and Finstersee, the council having previously suggested feasibility studies for three possible school locations, which included a new building in the municipality centre as well as the Sonnengrund and Finstersee options, though funding for this project had been declined in a subsequent referendum.
As to the low number of pupils in Finstersee, Dittli pointed out that a minimum number of pupils was required in order to ensure well-functioning education in classes of pupils of mixed ages, hence to continue to maintain a school with classes 1-4 with fewer than 12 pupils was not really viable. As mentioned, at present 13 pupils attend the school in Finstersee, though there is no knowing how many would attend there in future. It is not likely there will be any further children through new families moving to the area as there is hardly any space for further housing development in the municipality and there is no guarantee that the children of any newcomers would attend school there. Hence it was also not considered appropriate for money to be spent on renovating the premises in Finstersee, either.
Should locals decide for the closure of the school, it would continue to operate until the summer of 2020 and then close, a new purpose sought for the school building. If locals decide the school should continue to function, then the financing of the renovation, estimated at CHF 1.7 million, must be found.
As to why there is such strong opposition to the closure of the school, Dittli explained that, after 200 years, it was only understandable some locals were against it, not to mention the school providing a certain level of activity in the locality. Nevertheless, he felt the afore-mentioned centralisation of educational facilities in Menzingen was the right way forward.   

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