West Seneca is losing an elementary school.
The School Board on Monday unanimously approved a plan to convert East Elementary School into a revamped East Middle School, for grades 5 through 8, effective July 1. The move, part of a controversial plan to reconfigure district middle schools, also paves the way for shifts in other classrooms throughout the district.
School Board President Daniel A Nagy said that while the district will save money with the move, research also has shown that students are better off in a “true” middle school, one that has more than two grades.
But some of the parents at Monday’s meeting weren’t buying it.
“It has much more to do with economics than it does with academics,” said Peter A. Kalenik, a father of two kindergartners at East Elementary, who suggested that the district was “misleading” the public. “The fact that I have questions still makes me apprehensive, and I believe should raise questions for all of us.”
Added Jodi Skinner, vice president of the Parent-Teacher Organization at East Elementary and parent of a first-grader there: “What everyone is most afraid of is the uncertainty of what’s going to happen to our children when they move to another school.”
Skinner said it’s hard to convince parents that the decision to reconfigure the schools wasn’t rooted wholly in finances because the idea surfaced only last month, when the district was starting to compute its budgetary numbers for next year.
“We’ve been given no information to alleviate our concerns,” Skinner added, objecting to the board’s expediting the move without keeping teachers and students informed about their assignments for 2013-14 and parents in the loop about which of two existing elementary schools – Clinton or Northwood – their children will attend.
The reconfiguration of schools, according to district documents, shows that Allendale, West and Winchester elementary schools will be kindergarten to grade 5, with Potters Road Elementary being prekindergarten to grade 5 and Clinton Elementary kindergarten to grade 4. Northwood Elementary would be prekindergarten to grade 4, including students enrolled in the English as a Second Language program.
Students in grades 5 through 8 in the eastern part of the district would attend East Middle, and those in the western part would attend sixth to eighth grades at West Middle.
Katy LaPorta, the parent of a fourth-grade girl at East who will remain at the school under the new middle school format, worries that her daughter, who is 10, will be subjected to mature themes and language in the presence of older students. She’s circulating a petition against the board’s decision.
“Everything has been quick and on the fly, and [board members] don’t care about the public,” LaPorta said.
Still, despite the trio of comments – and those from a few others in Monday’s gallery – the turnout at the meeting was a far cry from the earful that school officials heard Jan. 29 during a public information session where nearly 300 attended.
Brian L. Schulz, district treasurer, said that while the genesis of the reconfiguration may have been partly financial, its benefit is educational.
“This was an opportunity for us also, more importantly, to have a middle school program have more than two grade levels,” Schulz said. The change, he added, will allow the district to continue providing valuable school programs for students – including in music and art – in the midst of a projected state aid budget gap of nearly $7 million for the next year alone.
Factoring in the departure of 132 employees who opted for an early retirement incentive – including numerous employees from East Elementary – the district will save $800,000 through the reconfiguration by not having to fill staffing holes that would have arisen at the school, Schulz said.
The timing, according to the treasurer, provided the district with a window of opportunity to revamp its middle school program, preserve existing educational programming and, at the same time, control costs for taxpayers.
For further information, consult a replay of a live blog of the meeting, containing video clips from Nagy, at: http://blogs.buffalonews.com/live/2013/02/live-blog-at-630-pm-west-seneca-board-may-vote-on-closing-elementary-school.html email: firstname.lastname@example.org