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A tentative plan by West Seneca School District officials to close East Elementary School and reconfigure East Middle School to accommodate students in grades five through eight met with vehement opposition from parents at a Tuesday night meeting.

About 300 people gathered in West Middle School to hear about the plan, which Superintendent Mark J. Crawford told those assembled was motivated by economics.

“We, like many other districts in Western New York and even across New York State, are facing all kinds of external pressures to change,” Crawford said.

He described the proposed reconfiguration as “one of the first exercises in transition that we will face over the next several years.” He noted that in the mid-1970s, the district had an enrollment of about 15,500 students. It has since dwindled to about 6,800.

Over 40 years, the district also has cut 120 staff and faculty positions. That, combined with 132 employees who took advantage of an early retirement incentive offered last school year, has resulted in the loss of more than 20 percent of the district workforce, Crawford said. In addition, he said, the district has been losing state aid.

“Over the last five years, we’ve lost more than $30 million in anticipated revenue. … With all of these changes occurring, we realize that we can’t stay the same,” the superintendent said.

His explanations did little to mollify parents.

Many, including Katy LaPorta –whose daughter attends fourth grade at East Elementary – questioned how the district could consider closing its academically top-ranked elementary school in order to place fifth-graders in an environment for which they may not be emotionally ready.

“East Elementary was one of five elementary schools to receive the high performing designation in the eight counties of Western New York,” LaPorta said before the start of Tuesday’s meeting.

“The scores don’t lie. Our school is the best out of them all, out of the seven elementary schools in the district. I don’t mean to put down any other school, but they’re destroying a very good school.”

LaPorta and other parents insisted that fifth-graders are not yet emotionally ready to be in a school environment with eighth-graders

“The maturity level of fifth-graders versus eighth-graders is a whole big difference,” LaPorta said. “I’m a single parent. Now, if she becomes a middle school student, there is no before-school and no after-school program. So, as a single parent, and I don’t have that help, there’s no help for these children.

“They’ll be going to school earlier and coming home earlier. I cannot leave a 10-year-old child at home for three or four hours by herself.”

School officials did not make any final plans Tuesday. The tentative plan, if it eventually is approved, would take effect in the fall at the start of the 2013-14 school year.

“I wish we had more time to do the planning, but there are a number things … that pushed us very quickly the last couple of months,” Crawford said, without offering specifics.

“I going to be looking for our District Parent Council and other parent representatives and school employees to work with us in planning our future transition,” he said. “We want to do the smart thing. We want to preserve programs as much as we can.”

email: hmcneil@buffnews.com