The Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School Board has said all along it wants community input before deciding what action it will take, if any, in an ongoing school consolidation study.
This week, board members are getting big doses of it.
Tuesday, they heard feedback from a focus group of community stakeholders – many of them hostile to the prospect of closing schools. And Thursday they’ll hear public comments at a work session that may be more impassioned if residents make the case to spare their neighborhood schools.
“This is not going to be an easy decision by any stretch of the imagination,” said School Board President Bob Dana after Tuesday’s special board meeting. “Nobody wants to close a school.”
The board and School Superintendent Mark P. Mondanaro thanked the focus group for its work at the start of the meeting, which was attended by 49 of the focus group’s 88 members.
Eight consolidation scenarios were presented earlier this year by a team of consultants hired by the district as it seeks savings and enrollment decreases. The focus group then rated the scenarios.
Sarah Vinson, a mother of two small children in the district and a graduate of Ken-Ton schools, said she wants to see an enhancement of curriculum accompany any move to consolidate.
“I’m pragmatic enough to understand that change is not easy for those who go through it, but I also think it’s not necessarily bad as long as it’s well thought out,” she said after the meeting.
District parent Paul Spors advocated a conservative approach to consolidation. Indeed, the focus group on June 8 gave its highest ranking to Scenario G, which would close two schools and is thought to be the most conservative after the scenario that makes no changes. “If we go too far like some of the plans are indicating, we could find ourselves opening up schools again, which is going to be really costly,” Spors said.
Ken-Ton employee Matt O’Malley took issue with the focus group process. “We didn’t have the ability to ask questions, to get further research on the scenarios and talk about what research is out there as we make decisions,” he said.
Peter Stuhlmiller, president of the Kenmore Teachers Association, said the consultants did not factor in educational research that shows there’s no academic benefit to consolidating schools.
“With any initiative the district has ever taken regarding special education, or literacy, or math, they’ve always done the research – what’s best for kids educationally,” he said. “That hasn’t been done yet.”
Thursday’s work session begins at 6:30 p.m. in the Kenmore East High School auditorium.
Dana said he hopes to have time, after public comment, for board members to express their thoughts on the scenarios, something the board has refrained from doing so far.
“I really would like to know what’s on their minds,” he said of his colleagues on the board. “I’m anxious to get started on those kinds of discussions.”