With a show of hands, the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School Board unanimously approved a school redistricting plan Tuesday evening that will close two elementary schools and one middle school and change the grade assignments at the high schools and at the two remaining middle schools.
Beginning in the 2016-17 school year, the plan – called Scenario I – will eliminate the Alexander Hamilton and Theodore Roosevelt elementary schools and convert Kenmore Middle School building into offices and facilities for special programs.
It will bring all the district’s eighth graders into the under-utilized Kenmore East and Kenmore West high schools and reserve Benjamin Franklin and Herbert Hoover middle schools for grades 5 to 7.
New district lines will be drawn for the remaining elementary schools – Holmes, Franklin, Hoover, Lindberg and Edison. Holmes, which will draw students entirely from west of Military Road, is expected to enroll about 300 pupils in kindergarten through fourth grade, while the others will have 500 to 600 in each school.
It is estimated that the plan will save the district $4.8 million in its first year.
Support for Scenario I was not unanimous around the U-shaped table in front of the stage in the Kenmore East High School auditorium as the School Board began its meeting to choose one of four reorganization proposals, but the five members were in agreement about one thing – they did not want Scenario G.
That one would have had the least impact on the status quo, closing only one elementary school, Hamilton, along with Kenmore Middle School.
“I believe the answer to our concerns is Scenario K,” board vice president Stephen Brooks said during his turn in the opening comment period.
He noted that K, which would turn Kenmore East High School into a junior high school and make Kenmore West the district’s only high school, would not mix seventh graders with 12th graders, an issue voiced by many parents, and would satisfy supporters who made a lengthy and emotional appeal to save Edison Elementary School at a public meeting Monday on the plans.
The board’s youngest member, Todd Potter Jr., a Kenmore East grad who is in law school, said, “My mind tells me that J [turning both high schools into junior-senior highs] is the right scenario, but I don’t know if the community is ready for it.”
So, he concluded, he favored Scenario I.
“We could always revisit seventh grade coming into the high school when the time is right,” he said, “but I don’t think the time is right now.”
Board members Judy Frank and Jeff Rickan, who both have children in Ken-Ton schools, also expressed their support of Scenario I and, speaking last, so did board president Bob Dana.
Dana, who taught in Ken-Ton schools for 32 years, said he had reservations about Scenario I – “I’m concerned because it doesn’t go far enough,” he said – but he changed his mind after hearing from Edison supporters and parents who opposed putting junior high and senior high students in the same building.
Despite the sentiment for Scenario I, school administrators explained that it’s not without its complications, many of them from putting eighth graders in the high schools.
Teacher certifications are different in high schools. Transportation will have to be arranged for students playing middle school sports. And, because of federal guidelines, cafeteria menus are different for eighth graders and high school students.
Applause from the crowd of about 100 greeted the unanimous vote. After the board agreed to appoint committees at its meeting next week to look into restoring academic programs lost during budget cuts in recent years, the meeting came to a quick conclusion.
“I’m feeling a lot of relief at this point,” Dana said. “When I came here tonight, I had no idea what we would wind up approving and I wanted to hear what my colleagues had to say. I’m glad there was a consensus. I thought it was important to show unity to the community.
“Other scenarios could have restarted more programs and moved ahead a lot faster,” he added, “but I don’t think they were ready for J or K.”
“I also figured the community wasn’t ready for it,” Brooks said. “If it wasn’t for Edison, things would have been different. The Edison community is a lot more structured. It has a lot more organization.”
Sentiments were different from a trio of Hamilton supporters as they gathered up their coats. They felt that Scenario I will have school officials coming back for another redistricting in a few years.
“I think if we’re going to do it, let’s do it once,” said a woman who works as an aide at Hamilton. “I’m tired of hearing that you can’t affect the sports and you can’t have the Bulldogs and the Blue Devils together. If we’re going to affect the elementary schools, cut back at the high schools.”