THE ISSUE: The average annual increase in the Gateway Regional School District budget over the past 8 years has been 1.07%. In that time, local support from our member towns has steadily increased to make up for continuously declining state and federal funding. Many towns have reached the point where Proposition 2 1/2 overrides are required to maintain services like police, fire, highway and libraries. The Gateway Regional School District has cut costs and improved efficiencies to sustain a high quality education for all students and minimize our financial impact on our small member towns.
As the funding outlook remains bleak, the district is forced to look at the low enrollment of our elementary schools. High per pupil costs are directly related to the overhead (heat, lights, support staff) of running 5 elementary schools for fewer than a total 500 students; two of our elementary schools will have 60 students next year and four of the five will have fewer than 100 students. Currently, the average cost of educating Gateway students is $8,282 for elementary, $6,670 for middle school, and $6,349 for high school. In most school districts, the cost of educating high school students is higher than the cost of educating elementary students.
The district is being forced to make large budget cuts. Strategies such as consolidating elementary schools and moving to a 150-day calendar can save a lot of money while sustaining a high quality of education. The alternative will be to cut staff, resulting in more multi-age classes, larger class sizes, and the elimination of highly desired programs such as elementary art, music and physical education. It is becoming clear that we need to make a choice regarding our elementary education system at Gateway: either sacrifice what we provide, or where we provide it, as we can no longer afford to sustain both.
The national and state economic crises have led the Gateway Regional School Committee to vote to look at consolidating elementary schools for the 2010-11 school year, as a way to significantly reduce costs without cutting deeply into educational programs.
THE PROCESS: The district has formed an Elementary Advisory Committee (EAC) to explore a number of models for consolidating elementary education. Two parents/community members from every Gateway town were appointed by each School Council to sit on this committee.
THE MODELS BEING CONSIDERED: The EAC will look at the following models of consolidating schools:
- Keep all 5 elementary schools open (more multi-age classes, larger class sizes, fewer specials)
- All 5 elementary schools open with Blandford, Chester and Conwell only open as schools of choice (ex. no bussing provided)
- Blandford, Chester, Conwell and Russell open and Littleville closed
- Littleville and Chester open; Blandford, Conwell and Russell closed
- Redistrict school boundaries
THIS WEBSITE: Information from the work of EAC will be posted regularly to this site. Please keep checking back for updates.The School Committee will use an agreed-upon Timeline to ensure that the public has input into this important decision. Frequently Asked Questions will be posted to this website. Contact information for Advisory Committee members is available, along with agendas and meeting notes. All of the presentations used in meetings and public hearings will be posted here, along with research that is shared by group members and press releases and other communications sent out by the district.