December 14, 2009
Due to the snowstorm and cancellation of school (and therefore all after-school activities) the school committee meeting on December 9th was cancelled. After much consideration, the agenda items from the December 9th meeting will be moved to the regularly scheduled meeting on January 13th. This meeting will begin at 7:30 and be held in the Gateway Performing Arts Center.
Because the meeting was cancelled, we don’t know the decision of the school committee regarding the consolidation of elementary schools. The majority of the residents of our seven towns should be aware of the tremendous work both the Elementary Advisory Committee (EAC) and the School Committee have done to collect input and information relating to this question. Hours of testimony at public hearings, hours of meetings and hours of volunteer time by the members of the EAC went into putting all of the information that was posted to the district’s website and made available to anyone who wanted to take the time to become familiar with the challenges inherent in changing the configuration of our district.
The financial aspects of this potential consolidation have always been the most difficult to accurately determine, primarily because of the slow response from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA). I am grateful that the MSBA did provide an answer to the district’s questions regarding the closing of schools that were partially funded by the state. In essence the authority decided that we would have to pay back 14 years of non-use of the buildings if closed for September 2010, would not have to pay any interest thus yielding a final yearly payment of $327,655 according to Susan Flanagan-Cahill, General Counsel to the MSBA (the response from MSBA is posted at www.grsd.org).
The question that the school committee will answer in January is whether consolidation is feasible, both financially and academically. Although the process started as a means to answer the financial question, the educational aspects quickly took precedence. To the administrators of this district and from the evidence collected by the EAC it is obvious that two elementary schools would be more educationally sound than our current five schools which require substantial time in travel for many staff and make it very difficult for teachers and administrators to collaborate effectively. The financial aspects of repaying the state for their help in building our schools, coupled with the ever-decreasing support the state provides Gateway (a decrease of roughly 25% of our total budget in 12 years) may also weigh positively on consolidation as the savings now look to be around $250,000 using our initial numbers. As we work on developing the 2010-2011 budget we’ll firm up those numbers as well as providing an overview of what services would look like under different scenarios.
I hope that the school committee will resolve the issue of consolidation in January so that district staff, the school committee and our towns can work together to establish a supportable system of education for our children. Together we can continue to have an outstanding school district and support being able to provide a whole child education while at the same time being ranked among the top school districts in the state in making progress on the MCAS assessments.