August 17, 2009
As the first two public hearings on the potential for consolidating elementary schools in the Gateway District are being held next week, I thought it important to review the information collected to date. No information will be provided by the School Committee or by the Elementary Advisory Committee (EAC) at the public hearings, rather they are a means to accept public comment and additional questions to be answered. In order to see what has already been researched on this subject by the district you would need to visit the district’s website at www.grsd.org.
Once you’re on the district’s website you need to merely click on the website for the Elementary Advisory Committee located first under the Announcements section of the website. Once you’ve entered the EAC website you’ll find a section of Frequently Asked Questions (including the current best answers and information from the Worthington Charter School Committee), all presentations and information that has been shared with the EAC and School Committee, a section containing all of the articles from the press as well as letters sent regarding consolidation, a section of the EAC members, a calendar of activities related to the consolidation process and a section containing some related research on small schools.
The EAC has also developed a significant number of questions related to the consolidation of elementary schools. While we don’t currently have all of the answers to these questions, the questions and preliminary responses will be posted to the website after the EAC group has a chance to review them next week. These questions range from the generic (what are the reasons for and against consolidation) to the specific (how much more would busing cost for two verses five schools). Wherever possible specific questions have been answered using data from state agencies such as the Department of Revenue to ensure a consistency in reviewing information collected from difference sources (i.e., stabilization and free cash funds for each town, property values and levy capacity). Questions that do not lend themselves to such specific detail have been answered using currently available research. Many of the unanswered questions relate to position statements such as under what circumstances towns would support school budgets. The EAC plans on using surveys to collect some of this data as well as getting input from the public hearings.
The intent of all of this is to create a body of information related to the options that the school committee has in funding and operating the district in order that they can make an informed decision that will be in the best interests of our students. I realize that for some people it will not matter what the data shows as they are operating on their perceptions and feelings, others will weigh the best interests of students against their own interests or the perceived interests of the towns and still others will care less about student or district interests and be primarily concerned with the ability to save money and limit taxes. I also understand that no matter what level of research and planning go into this decision there will be individuals who disagree with whatever decision the school committee finally makes in December. This decision, like those relating to what to cut, is not an easy decision for anyone and is particularly difficult as it forces the school committee to weigh what appears to be almost contradictory information, concerns, feelings and perceptions in order to make a decision that is in the best interest of nearly 1,300 students. I have every confidence that whatever the decision, the members of the school committee will have spent much time and gone through hours of angst in reaching the decision that they feel is best for the district. Whatever that decision may be, I hope that the district can then pull together to provide our children with the best education possible under those conditions.