November 19, 2009
The Elementary Advisory Committee (EAC) provided its report on elementary school consolidation to the Gateway School Committee this past week. As outlined in its original charge, the EAC did not provide a recommendation but rather summarized the data they’d collected since beginning the process in March (the report and other related information can be found on the district’s website at www.grsd.org).
As you review the final report, you will note that there is an absence of references to finances and class sizes. This is not an oversight, but rather a deliberate omission as finances are dependent on the answers the district receives from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) and class size is independent of whether we have five or fewer elementary schools. The final report is rather modest in size but does an excellent job of putting into an easily understandable format the major issues facing the district when considering school consolidation.
I thank the members of the EAC for their commitment to the process, for their willingness to hold frank and honest discussions and for the excellent level of civility during a very difficult fact finding and fact reviewing process. They managed to take reams of information and transform this into a very readable document.
As difficult as the EAC found their job to be, they were very happy to be free from making the ultimate decision as to whether or not to consolidate schools. This decision is scheduled for the December 9th school committee meeting—an open school committee meeting where public discourse and the eventual vote will be open for all to listen and see.
My understanding is that Gateway is not the only district considering the consolidation of schools, or the only district asking for specific answers from the MSBA. We were informed that the MSBA Board met on November 18th to consider what happens when schools are closed, but we have not received any specific answers to date. The questions appear to be simple and basic in nature but, due to the fact that the MSBA hasn’t set up policies, protocols or regulations to handle this situation, I’m sure they’re much more difficult to answer then we might anticipate.
These questions boil down to some basic information. Can Gateway get a waiver from repaying the state for the buildings if we close them? If we must pay the state back, how much would we owe? And how would the state recoup this money: through a lump sum payment or through reductions in the district’s state aid funding? Upon these questions hinge the financial information that will allow the school committee to make an informed decision regarding the financial impact on consolidating schools, while the educational impacts of such a decision are summarized in the EAC’s report. I’m sure that in the end, the school committee will make the decision that is in the best interests of the students and that will allow the district to move forward in meeting our children’s needs.