Parents and students in the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School District will soon have to choose from an uncomfortable set of options as the district tries to cope with decades of plummeting enrollment. Many will be inconvenienced, but the district has no choice but to move forward.
In the latest scenario, one of the district’s two high schools would have grades 10 through 12; the other would have grades 7 through 9. At least two elementary schools would close, with the remaining schools containing prekindergarten through grade 6.
Three other scenarios involve different combinations of closures or reconfigurations.
These days, nearly everything is on the table as the district faces continuing enrollment decline. Its unofficial enrollment stands at just above 7,200 students. In the late 1960s, Ken-Ton enjoyed a peak of more than 22,000 students attending 23 schools. The district still uses 13 school buildings – two high schools, three middle schools and now seven elementary schools.
The decline in the number of students has meant not only empty buildings but lost jobs – teachers, administrators and support staff – while legacy costs of health care and pension packages continue. Reductions have also meant uneven class sizes and elimination of some programs. School leaders hope that consolidation will help right-size classes, which now range from 15 to 28.
The district has instituted numerous cost-saving measures, including sharing a transportation director with the Grand Island School District; others are in the works. Superintendent Mark Mondanaro reduced his own salary and agreed to givebacks in his benefits. Other administrators should do the same. There has been union cooperation, with millions of dollars in contract concessions, and nearly a hundred teachers and dozens of other district employees have been laid off during the last few years.
But the reality is there are too many partially empty buildings. The district is on the correct path in examining all its options and involving all its stakeholders. There really is no choice.
Amid all the talk of school disruption, there is good news. The International Baccalaureate Program at West and East high schools has thrived. Graduates at West beat the global average passing rate on a recent international exam.
Quality education is being delivered in Ken-Ton. It just needs to be on a smaller scale.