July 13, 2009
The ad hoc committee from Worthington will be answering questions on their prospectus for changing the R. H. Conwell Elementary School into a Horace Mann Charter School at a special school committee meeting at the Middle/High School Library on Wednesday, July 22nd beginning at 7:30 p.m. An overview of the prospectus was provided to the committee on July 8th.
It is my understanding that the ad hoc committee in Worthington formed to ensure that the Conwell Elementary School would remain open in any reorganization of the district and that one of the options being explored is the idea of a Horace Mann Charter School. This is a Charter School that essentially remains part of the district in terms of students and funding, however most control of the day-to-day activities is given over to a separate Board of Trustees. It was evident from the presentation on the 8th that there are many questions related to the establishment of a charter school and that this may have some major impacts on district school operations ranging from finances and transportation through administration and staffing. As this may impact every individual in the entire district, I suggest that anyone interested in the future of the Gateway District follow this development closely and consider attending this meeting. The Worthington ad hoc committee meets every Monday evening in the Worthington town hall and has a standing invitation to anyone in the district who wishes to explore these issues more fully.
We will be faced with some difficult decisions as we prepare for the 2010-2011 school year in terms of budgetary issues. You can see the writing on the wall—the state finally finished up the FY’10 budget in time to find that they were, again, in a $180 million deficit for the FY’09 budget that just ended and this was just the most recent decline in revenues that forced the state to make up a total of $5 billion for the year. You can see it in the dire fiscal straights our towns face and the unpopularity of proposition 2 ½ overrides required to balance increasing costs against stagnant revenue sources. You can see it in the state’s increasing taxes and costs (increase in sales tax, the rooms and meals taxes, the increase in various and sundry state fees) while still seeing decreases in overall state revenue. You can see it in the increasing ranks of both the recently unemployed and the long-term unemployed. You can see it in the use of the state’s rainy day fund and in the state’s accelerated use of the federal stimulus dollars. In short we’re living in difficult fiscal times and we have little hope that the state will come through with additional funding for our towns or the school district. The question that’s been posed before, and that we’re continuing to look at now, is how to provide a solid education in a less expensive manner while meeting the myriad state and federal regulations that more often than not include a cost to the district but little or no additional revenue from the state or federal government.
As we struggle with this reality we’re faced with the potential of changing the way we educate our children whether this be in consolidating elementary schools, creating a charter school, relying more heavily on on-line courses or moving rapidly towards a multi-age approach in order to keep schools open with larger classes, fewer staff and lower overhead. As the school committee and public discuss the alternatives, consider the objectives of education, and weigh needs against desire, I hope we can keep in mind the bottom line of what is in the best interests of our students. Or, as Joseph Addison wrote, “If men would consider not so much wherein they differ, as wherein they agree, there would be far less of uncharitableness and angry feeling”.