NEWS STAFF REPORTER
A proposal to close an elementary school in the West Seneca Central School District and incorporate sixth-graders districtwide into the two middle schools is driven in part by academic concerns, according to administrators.
The plan will be formally recommended for approval when the School Board meets Jan. 28. Its provisions would be implemented at the end of the current school year.
Under the plan, East Elementary School would cease functioning as such; its students in kindergarten through grade five would go to either Clinton Street or West elementary schools.
The building itself would become part of East Middle School, with which it now shares a campus on Center Road. Both East and West middle schools would house grades six through eight.
“We are trying to align our school system with Common Core Curriculum,” School Superintendent Mark J. Crawford explained Friday. The state curriculum establishes standards for students in kindergarten through grade five, and grades six through 12.
“There’s also a great number of school districts ... that go 6-7-8” in their middle schools, added Charles Lehman, assistant superintendent of pupil services. That structure previously existed in West Seneca, he noted.
But the plan would not disrupt East Elementary students, current and future, on their paths to complete their educations where intended. Those elementary students would go to East Middle School, then East Senior High School.
“We are really just trying to keep the neighborhood contiguous,” said Lehman.
The proposal was the subject of a contentious public meeting Thursday night at East Middle School.
Financial challenges and declining enrollment also play roles in the plan, the administrators agreed.
With its 2013-14 budget in the works, the district is facing a $7.5 million gap. And like many other school districts, West Seneca has drained its unrestricted fund balance to compensate for reduced state aid and escalating costs.
During the past four years, Crawford said, the district has lost more than 20 percent of its workforce. There were 120 people who left and weren’t replaced, and 132 people took advantage late last year of an incentive to retire or resign at the end of this school year.
Elementary school enrollment has plummeted, Lehman added; the district has 675 fewer elementary school students now than it did 20 years ago. “We are still in a downward trend,” he said.
There will be money saved through restructuring, administrators said, such as through the elimination of duplicate staff positions.
“Fundamentally, this is about doing what we think is in the best interest of children – now and moving into the future,” Crawford said.