ConVal School Board speakers protest possible school closures

Francestown Elementary School.

Francestown Elementary School.

By BILL FONDA

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 12-06-2023 12:17 PM

Modified: 12-08-2023 10:35 AM


Jesse Marcum of Dublin said he feels “helpless.”

During the public comment portion of Tuesday night’s ConVal School Board meeting, he said he started attending meetings several years ago when he heard rumors of consolidation, and that despite his concerns and questions, he has never been told why anything needs to be done other than some “vague and unspecified references to savings or opportunity.”

He also said that he had been assured repeatedly that no decision had been made, but now that Prismatic Consulting has recommended closure of Francestown Elementary School, Dublin Elementary School, Pierce School in Bennington and Temple Elementary School, “every indication suggests that I was right to be concerned from the get-go.”

Marcum said he feels helpless because in spite of staying informed, no one has ever asked him what he wanted. “I don’t mean answering some loaded or leading questions in a survey,” he said, or “plunking tokens or tickets into a box as though I was choosing a prize at a carnival.”

Marcum wants all elementary schools to remain open, saying students have the opportunity to “attend an intimate school that’s deeply embedded in their town and their community.”

“Our small schools are our promise to our children that we value them and they are deserving of more than an industrial model of education,” he said.

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Kari Higley of Dublin said she was “distressed and angered” after reading the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript’s report on Prismatic’s recommendation, and “outraged” at the amount of money and time that has gone into attempting to close the schools, which are “not only places of learning and development for children, but also places which are essentially the heartbeats of each community.”

“Friendships are made here, sometimes lifelong friendships,” she said.

Higley also said the per-pupil costs in the elementary schools were skewed by schools which have pre-K.

“Do not think it that is has been overlooked that the schools that were expressly denied a pre-K are the ones on the chopping block,” which she said underscores the belief “that these closures have been long in the planning.”

Kimberly Marcum of Dublin said neither Prismatic nor the School Board has provided sources for their information, including what she said was inaccurate information on Dublin Elementary’s enrollment provided in the survey or what years the test averages were taken for the elementary schools.

“That’s not transparency. It feels like distrust and purposeful withholding of education,” she said.

Marcum also took exception to Prismatic founder and principal Tatia Prieto’s statement that children who are different do better in larger classes, saying study after study has indicated that all children do better in small classes.

Marcum also said the “social capital” the schools provide to their communities and to ConVal is being ignored.

“It isn’t the work of the district that allows these small schools in Dublin, Francestown, Temple and Bennington to become the soul of the towns and function so efficiently,” she said. “It is the principals, the teachers, the paras, the secretaries, the parents, the community members and the children themselves who breathe life into them because we love them.”

Laura Mafera of Francestown said the process did not prioritize community involvement, as Francestown’s meeting was the same night as an open house, and the town meetings were not back-and-forth engagement, but “rather a presentation of seemingly biased questions and Post-it notes.”

Mafera also noted that the schedule for the public forum on Dec. 11 only allows 35 minutes for questions and answers.

“Why not give the community actual time to ask questions and get meaningful, thoughtful answers?” she said.

May Clark of Dublin asked what is included in the $2.5 million Prieto cited as savings, including the number of teaching positions. She also asked if additional costs have been accounted for, including needed work in the schools where students would be moving and transportation costs.

“I suppose there will be some reduction, but there will also be some increase,” she said.

Near the end of the meeting, Alan Edelkind, the Dublin representative to the School Board and chair of ConVal’s Strategic Organization Committee, stressed that for reconfiguration to happen, the board would have to develop a warrant article by January. The community would vote on the recommendation in March, and changing the number of elementary schools would have to pass by a two-thirds margin across the district.

“We do not actually say that we’ll do this,” he said. “”You have the final say whether we do something or not.”

The board will hold a community forum on consolidation and reconfiguration Monday, Dec. 11, from 7:30 to 9 p.m. in the Lucy Hurlin Theater at ConVal High School. The School Board meeting that had been scheduled for Dec. 7 has been postponed to Wednesday, Dec. 13, at 7 p.m. in the SAU No. 1 Board Room to allow for more community input. The board is scheduled to vote whether to accept the report at that time.

Prismatic’s entire report is also available through the district website, convalsd.net.