The following questions have been asked at public
meetings or have been sent via email.
Q. Why is Gateway thinking of
changing elementary schools?
|A. These are difficult
economic times for the school district and its member towns. The state
has continuously lowered funding over the years and the towns can no
longer make up the difference. Four of our five elementary schools have
fewer than 100 students; two have 60 or fewer students. If we can
achieve an “economy of scale” by consolidating schools, we can save
teaching jobs and maintain educational programs (such as art, music and
physical education) for our students.
| Q. Would my
child’s school close this fall?
A. The district is looking at five different models to improve the
economy of scale for elementary schools. Because this will take some
time to gather information and public input, any closings would take
place in the 2010-11 school year.
| Q. What is the individual operating cost by school?
| A. Version 3.0 of
the 2009-10 Budget was adopted by the Gateway Regional School Committee
and will be voted on at each Annual Town Meeting. The budget is posted
on the district
website. The elementary school cost breakdowns begin on
page 11 of the budget
|Q. Is it true that if Elementary Schools close,
my 5 year-old will be riding the bus with high school students?
|A. No, the district will continue
to offer a second run of bussing for elementary students.
Q. Can the district pursue funding to improve
our energy efficiency and save money that way?
The district has
already enacted a number of strategies to save funding on energy costs.
We have always been a member of a collaborative which enables the
district to purchase fuel at a more competitive rate; we lowered the
heating temperature in all schools last year. When we furloughed
administrative, technology and central office staff during the December
vacation, we lowered the temperature at the middle/high school complex
even more for ten days—saving both payroll costs and utility costs. The
district has also joined a collaborative in an attempt to save money on
electricity costs. We are currently exploring grant opportunities to
make the buildings more energy efficient.
Q. The 2009-10 Budget has over $1 million
budgeted for transportation. Why so much, and why doesn’t the state pay
more? I thought the state promised to cover their larger bussing costs
when regional school districts were formed?
|A. We have budgeted $1,722,925 for
bussing in the 2009-10 budget. At the time the budget was being
developed, we expected to be reimbursed $738,575 from the state. Under
the laws concerning forming regional school districts, the state says it
will reimburse regional districts for 100% of transportation costs,
“subject to appropriation”. This means if the final state budget does
not put money into the line item for regional transportation
reimbursement, the district and towns have to make up the difference.
The state does not pay for special education transportation, which is
$467,357 of our $1.7 million bussing budget. The Gateway hilltowns
encompass 205 square miles. If our bus routes are laid end-to-end, our
busses travel from Huntington, MA to Huntington Beach, CA 3 times a
|Q. How do you determine how much each town
pays? If a town is willing to pay more to keep it’s own school open, is
|A. There are three parts to the
towns’ assessments. The Minimum Contribution is determined by the state
using a complex formula that takes many factors into account, such as
student enrollment and the median income of the town’s residents. The
Non-Foundation and Above Minimum contributions are determined by the
percentage of students from each town. The towns do not pay for the
entire budget, as the state provides educational aid (Chapter 70),
regional transportation reimbursement and limited grant funding. The
federal government provides additional grant funding and the school
district itself generates a limited amount of revenue.
|Q. I heard that Gateway will be getting
federal stimulus funding. Can’t we use this money to keep all of our
|A. Gateway is slated to receive an extra
$158,378 in IDEA funding and $56,043 in Title I funding through the
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (federal stimulus funding). This
money is only available for two years and must be spent following
stringent government guidelines. In short, this funding is earmarked for
special education programs and materials.
Q. How does school choice impact the district
|A. Students and parents elect to school
choice out of Gateway for a variety of reasons. From surveys that we’ve
conducted each year for seven years, the three most common reasons for
leaving are: 1) a family moved into a Gateway town from out-of-district
and their child will finish high school in their previous town; 2a) the
other district offers more opportunities (8 families cited academic
reasons, 5 families cited a specific sport); 2b) the family was unhappy
with their child’s school regarding a specific incident or complaint;
and 3) the parents work in another school district or town and want
their children close by. Every student who leaves Gateway to attend
another public school or public charter school, approximately $5,000
that would have come in from the state to support Gateway schools goes
to the other schools. The official number of school choice students on
March 1, 2008 was 88. Had those students remained in Gateway, the
district would have an additional $440,000 in revenue to support our
|Q. If you close some of the elementary
schools, you will probably lose more students to school choice. How can
you consider this?
|A. Looking at building-based costs only,
the average cost of educating a Gateway elementary student is $8,282*.
That cost is even higher in our smallest elementary schools. While we
hope students will give any new system a chance before deciding to
leave, a number of families have announced that they will leave Gateway
if their school closes. While the district will lose $5,000 for each
student who leaves, we will still be saving over $3,000 per student. In
the end, if we keep all five schools open but have to eliminate programs
such as art, music, and physical education to handle this severe budget
situation, elementary students are likely to school choice out if a
neighboring district still offers those opportunities.
|Q. What about redistricting, as a way to
achieve a better “economy of scale”?
|A. The Elementary Advisory Committee is
looking at redistricting as one of its models. While specifics are not
yet known about the advantages and disadvantages of this strategy, in
the end we will still be paying the utilities and overhead of five
buildings for fewer than 500 students.
|Q. Can we look at our own schools for ways to
cut our budget to keep our school open?
|A. It depends on what suggestions are
offered. For example, under union contracts we cannot eliminate a nurse
and then have a volunteer come in to take care of sick children.
However, one of the models the Elementary Advisory Committee will look
at is keeping the smallest schools open as “Schools of Choice”. Savings
might be realized because the schools would not have the staffing
structure that our schools usually do, and parents would have to do
their own transportation. We do not have findings yet on that proposal
but will update this website when we do.
|Q. Could an elementary school opt to not have
bussing, as a way to save money and keep the school open?
|A. Under state law, the district must provide
bussing to all students (K-12) who live beyond two miles of their
school. However, the district is not required to provide transportation
in cases of school choice. If some schools remain open under a “School
of Choice” model, this might be a possibility.
|Q. Do we have figures on what we would save
with 3 schools as “Schools of Choice”?
A. As of this writing (May 11, 2009), we do not have those numbers
yet. They will be posted on this website when they are developed.
|Q. How are elementary staff cut?
|A. Teachers who have achieved
professional status (ex. three years of teaching in the district) have
protection under the terms of the union contract. For example: if we
determine that we have to cut 5 teachers, the first teachers to be
eliminated are the ones who have not achieved professional status. If
there are fewer than 5 non-professional status teachers, then we move to
the teachers with the lowest tenure in the district. Teachers can also
“bump” each other. For example, if an experienced elementary teacher’s
position is eliminated, but (s)he has professional status and is
certified to teach at the Middle School, that teacher might “bump” a
non-professional status teacher in the Middle School. It can be complex
to figure out and in the end, teachers may still be in the district but
might be in a different school. Therefore, if the schools remain open
and we have to cut positions instead, teachers and other staff are
likely to shift.
|Q. Why are the elementary schools being
singled out? Why not cut administrators, custodians or staff from the
A. The elementary
schools are not being singled out, as cuts have been made at every level
of the district. Administrators, technology staff and central office
staff were all furloughed last winter, giving up pay during the holiday
vacation. The Superintendent and Business Manager have given up their
raises for next year. Hours have been decreased in many positions, but
all jobs serve multiple functions. For example, the “Grantwriter” (a .8
FTE during the school year) writes all of our competitive grant
applications, has brought in six times her salary since we hired her,
writes all of the district press releases and the weekly district
e-newsletter, works with television and print media, has
responsibilities in safety, emergency management and portions of the
district web site, coordinates special events, and represents the
district to many outside organizations. This is very typical of the
numerous responsibilities juggled by all of the Central Office staff. We
have four technology staff members who manage our phones, Internet, and
student data and reporting systems, provide staff training and
technology support, all while maintaining over 1,000 district and
The Middle School and High School have
already absorbed significant cuts over the past three years. This has
been able to happen, in part, due to declining numbers of students so
that class sizes and programs can remain stable with fewer staff. But
they are to the point where cutting further will affect educational
opportunities for students.
from the May 26, 2009 EAC Meeting
thought I heard Dr. Hopson say that you never save money after the
first year of closing schools.
If we close elementary schools, we
will save money in the first year by reducing building-level staff
(secretary, nurse, custodian in each school). Additional savings would
be based on whether or not the building is turned back to the town, but
might include heat, lights, phone, electricity and repairs. If the
savings amount to $500,000 in the first year the building is closed, we
do not technically save another $500,000 the second year as the
following year’s budget is now $500,000 lower to begin with.
Can you give us a budget update since our last meeting?
A. Since the April
27 meeting, we have identified two more students who will need to go out
of district for special education services, which will cost about
$200,000. The House Budget came in at $200,000 less in Chapter 70 and
Regional Transportation Reimbursement; the Senate budget came in with
$500,000 less in those two lines. We are currently estimating that we
will need to cut the FY ’10 budget by $500,000 - $600,000, depending on
what the final numbers from the state are. A list of prioritized cuts
was approved on June 10 by the Gateway Regional School Committee. Those
cuts, which will be enacted to the degree necessary once the final state
budget is determinedt are posted on the district
|Q. Can we plead with the Governor to provide
better funding to small schools? The state has such a push to
regionalize school districts, yet they don’t fund regional
|A. The closest we got with the state on the
issue of funding small, rural school systems was the RED Circuit Breaker
a few years ago. It was a proposal put to the legislature by the
Massachusetts Association of Regional Schools (MARS) and we actually
made some headway on funding until the fiscal crisis began looming. We
don’t have the votes to carry it at this point.
|Q. How long can a child be on a bus?
|A. There is no law that mandates the maximum
amount of time you can have a child ride a school bus. Gateway’s rule of
thumb has been to look at bus routes that exceed an hour in normal road
from the June 22, 2009 EAC Meeting
Q. Why doesn’t Gateway own their own busses?
Wouldn’t it be cheaper?
A. There are a number of factors that would have to be considered
before running our own busses. First, we would have to purchase or lease
busses. In all likelihood, bus drivers would become unionized, which
could result in increased pay and benefits. It would add another layer
of complexity into the district operations, involving insurance and
human resources, unemployment, supervision and evaluation processes and
oversight. We would need to have a place to store busses (and pay for
that space) and would need to cover the cost of maintenance and repairs
and pay directly for fuel. The biggest savings we could find might be to
purchase two busses to conduct field trips.
Q. What about making the smaller schools
“Schools of Choice” and not providing transportation, in order to save
|A. Our attorney has researched this
possibility and determined that, unless we create a Charter School at
one of those buildings, it would not be legal to call an elementary
school a “School of Choice”. It would not meet Massachusetts law
requiring transporting students.
|Q. Could we lease a school building to a business for
A. If Chester or Littleville were to close, the buildings are owned
by the district and the district would have to decide what to do with
them. Russell, Blandford and R. H. Conwell Elementary Schools are owned
by their respective towns, who would determine what happens to them
after they close.
In terms of leasing part of a building to use
excess capacity and generate income, this is something that could be
looked at. However, there would be a number of issues to resolve—such as
materials that could and could not be in use, impact on the educational
environment and day, access by the public to the business, overall
student safety and the separation between students and the public being
just a few of the issues.
Q. Could the high school use available space to
build their own vocational programs?
|A. When the high school was renovated, the
building committee explored a number of vocational options to increase
our Chapter 74 programs (we currently offer welding) and keep more
students in district. In the end, they determined that the amount of
square footage, the cost of equipment required by most programs and
limited student numbers for a particular vocation were deterrents.
|Q. What about tax increases?
|A. Most of our seven towns are to the point
where they require a 2½ override to pay any more for schools or other
town services. People can make donations to a particular school, but
DESE would have to rule on whether or not a town could pay more to keep
its own school open. Under the regional agreement and law, each town
pays for its share of operating ALL SEVEN schools.
R. H. Conwell Charter School
to Questions from Gateway Regional School Committee
(presented at 7/22/09 meeting)