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Let’s consider a school shuffle

  • Staff photo by Abby Kessler Staff photo by Abby Kessler



Tuesday, November 14, 2017

After years of declining school enrollment in the ConVal School District and talk about what to do, it’s time for action and time to seriously consider consolidation. The Ledger-Transcript article of Nov. 2 will hopefully be a catalyst to begin the conversation and get the facts out to all in our nine-town school district.

Within the past year school administration was directed by the School Board to present some option models, including a school consolidation option. I attended the public School Board retreat meeting on Sept. 5, when the school consolidation option was presented, and since then I have read the supporting documents. What I heard that evening was much more than an “exercise” or a “thought experiment” as was stated in the Nov. 2 Ledger-Transcript article. I heard a serious, well-thought-out, researched consolidation option presented by a team of the professional administrators hired to educate our students. Unfortunately, immediately after the presentation and before even asking any questions of the presenters, the School Board quickly voted to table this consolidation option and look further into an option that would keep all schools open and add significant costs to school operations.

The following statements are taken directly from the written document that accompanied the presentation and they clearly show that this was a serious option that needs to be considered.

“Our current configuration of 11 schools continues to place financial strain on taxpayers and has created significant inequities in student service. It creates significant barriers in collaboration among staff members, which has a significant impact on equity of student services. Currently, students have limited choice and opportunity at the elementary and middle school level. Finally, our current model does not allow staff to properly meet the social/emotional needs of the students in our district. School psychologists, counselors, nurses, and social workers are shared among our schools based on student population. As a result, schools are often left without support services when a student is struggling.”

“The Consolidation model is good for students as it remedies the current inequity of delivery of services to all students in the ConVal District. It provides only three transitions; it provides consistency in student services programming such as school counseling and support services; it provides a larger community for students to engage socially with peers and teachers; it provides the opportunity for world language offerings in the upper elementary school; and it allows for increased access to athletic opportunities and community resources. The model is good for the community as it reduces costs by approximately 3.6 million dollars while providing increased opportunities for universal pre-school, before and after school care, world language instruction beginning as early as 4th grade, and course offerings for students at the middle/high school level.”

More work needs to be done to further refine and finalize this important work. For example, the estimated $3.6 million in savings likely will grow because the reduced costs for food service have not yet been factored in. I now urge the School Board to take the consolidation plan off the table, to begin further development, to present it clearly and in detail and allow the voters of the district to make a decision. Our consolidated school district was created 50 years ago “to provide the most efficient and economical means to raise our schools quality to the highest standard possible.”  It’s time to change our thinking from being territorial and town oriented and shift to the regional, district identity that we are.

 

Ed Juengst is chair of the Peterborough Select Board.