By John Schroeder
Before I was on the Board, at the beginning of the planning process this past summer, the Board identified four key priorities for a long term Plan that would help the District deal with our long term declining enrollment and the resulting budget crunch that our district is facing:
First, a Plan was needed that would not require the passage of a facilities referendum because of our inability to pass one in the recent past, and the low probability of us passing one in the future.
Second, the Plan should provide equal services at all of our buildings. Currently there are buildings that do not provide special education services, and buildings that do not have an extra teacher to provide additional reading support under the Title One program.
Third, the Plan should provide equitable class sizes throughout the district.
Fourth, the Plan should provide multi-track schools. Multi-track schools make it easier to balance class sizes, allow for flexible groupings of students for certain learning activities, and provide for more frequent staff collaboration between teachers of the same grade level. Teachers could give each other feedback, share lesson plans, and bounce ideas off of each other about what worked, and what did not.
These goals resulted in a plan that is good for education, and a plan that I think is pretty good. However, because the three city elementary schools are roughly at least 5,000 square feet larger than the rural schools, there was not room to leave rural schools open: ie, if you left some open you could not meet the multi-track and equitable services goal.
At the listening sessions, the parents and community members (roughly 40 to 50 people at each session, with several of the same people attending the majority of the sessions) expressed strong displeasure in the lack of the rural presence, and the resulting loss of green space, as well as concerns about busing. This has been well documented. But, it has also been observed that if parents in the rural areas were that unhappy with the plan, there could have been a lot more people at those sessions than actually attended.
Now, what is a plan that would not require a referendum, and meet as many of the Board’s goals as possible?
They are hard to come up with. Perhaps as a small parting gift, Brian, the District Administrator, (with an assist from Director of Business Services, Tim Prunty) came up with another plan, I will call it Plan B, after the listening sessions that was creative, does pretty well with the Board’s goals, and maintains a rural presence. It is not perfect, and I am not sure he even thinks it is better than the original plan, or would advocate for it, but it does keep that rural presence, and it will most likely provide equal services at all buildings.
Plan B is as follows:
- Close East elementary.
- Close either Crestwood or Pleasant View. So two rural schools would remain open, Spring Valley, and one of those two. Those remaining rural schools would each have one track, and it would be grades K – 4. When those fifth graders are sent to the middle school, it frees up one room which would allow for special education services at the rural schools. And Title One services would most likely also be available, so the Board’s goal of equal services would be meet.
- West would have two tracks of grades K – 3, and also have the 4k program. North would have three tracks of grades K – 3.
- 8th grade is still moved to the high school.
- And the Middle School would have seven tracks of grades 5-7, and five tracks of fourth graders who came from the city schools.
- East could potentially become a combination central office, senior center, and a day care- as there appears to be a day care shortage in town.
Approximate Class Sizes
|High School||8-12||Varies by Class|
|Middle School||5-7 (7 tracks) 4 (5 tracks)||23|
|West||K-3 (2 track) 4K/EC||23|
|North||K-3 (3 track)||23|
|Spring Valley||K-4 (1 track)||23|
|CW/PV||K-4 (1 track)||23|
Plan B could also add an extra instructional aide at all schools to better enable small group work (though this adds an additional 200,000 cost), and the new administration, or a board policy, could build into the schedule a lot more time for the elementary teachers to collaborate. But, that extra time would still not be as good as the collaboration of all multi track schools. So this goal is comprised in favor of a rural presence. Plan B also makes it much more difficult to balance class sizes as enrollment continues to decline compared to the original Plan, and it could mean you have to close some more schools in 5 or 10 years. It is also arguably less efficient because you are closing East, a larger building, and leaving open smaller ones where you cannot run a multi-track. Plan B probably makes it much more difficult to go to k-12 busing, and thus reduces those potential savings by around $200,000. It also requires the costs of an additional janitor, secretary, and additional utilities for one more building. We can assume the two rural schools would share a principle. But again, that is more costly than the original plan.
It is possible that at the meeting on March 28th, the board will vote to approve the original Plan, if we cannot get a Plan C referendum passed before grade shifts begin. I would be interested in some additional feedback from the community before that meeting. Please send a brief email to Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org indicating which plan you prefer, even if you don’t like either that much. He can give us the results at that meeting. Unfortunately, we would still probably need an operating referendum to fix up the aging elementary schools that are still open, regardless of which plan is chosen, and some money for updated curriculum- years of budget cuts have left some worn out and outdated books, perhaps some money for technology, and additional funds to make our teacher pay more competitive with surrounding districts. But both of these plans close some schools, and reduce us from 8 tracks to 7, so there should be substantial savings. That track reduction will most likely occur through attrition, i.e., retirement and typical teacher movement, not through firing. Thank you for your consideration, and please send Brian an email or a letter if you have a preference.
John D Schroeder
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