Although more details were released about a potential plan to reconfigure elementary schools in Pelham, many community members still have questions about how the plan will be implemented and its overall value to the district's educational program.
During Monday's school board meeting, Dr. Dennis Lauro . Students are currently assigned to elementary schools based on the neighborhoods they live in.
The plan Lauro presented would split elementary school students in the district into north/south boundaries Colonial Elementary School would hold grades K-2 and get paired with Hutchinson, which would hold grades 3-5. Siwanoy would hold grades K-2 and get paired Prospect Hill Elementary School, which would hold grades 3-5.
School officials are looking at the plan in an effort that must be made for next year’s budget due to the 2 percent property tax cap. Lauro said the reconfiguration proposal could save the district a net total of $1.1 million if implemented.
Lauro also cited educational benefits that the plan could have, such as the ability to implement a world language program and science labs for student in grades 4-5.
But questions regarding the logistics of carrying out the proposal and the actual monetary savings the reconfiguration would yield have lingered among Pelham residents.
Rachel Cullen, a Colonial school parent, created an online petition last month asking the district not to reconfigure its elementary schools. Cullen was unable to attend the Monday meeting, but another parent, Holly McNamara, was able to present a petition signed with more than 450 names to the board Monday.
Cullen worries that the savings presented by Lauro aren’t sustainable and that the district will find itself in a similar position when it’s time to craft the 2013-2014 budget.
“This plan is not only goes against what so many of us want, but it doesn’t do the job of getting the numbers,” Cullen said. “I don’t see how we’re going to be able to sustain these savings year after year.”
Cullen also has concerns about the safety of the students who will be required to walk longer distances across busy streets in order to travel to school.
Jennifer Slattery, who attended Monday’s meeting and has children attending elementary school in the district, said she attended elementary schools that had similar structures to the one proposed in the reconfiguration study and recognizes some of the educational benefits it could have.
But she believes the district needs to do a better job of explaining the proposal to the public and studying its educational benefit. Slattery said she liked the idea of having language program in the elementary school, but that program alone wouldn’t justify the changes proposed in the plan.
Slattery also doesn’t believe that the saving proposed in the plan are enough to justify the changes. Although the district says that it can save $1.1 million if the plan is instituted, $503,000 of those savings are from three teacher retirement that are scheduled to take place anyway.
“Maybe this is something they can work on in the early summer or the early fall,” Slattery said. “Then, they can try to negotiate the other union contracts early and try and get them in line with the property tax cap.”
Conor McCormick-Cavanagh, a former Pelham schools student who is now attends Connecticut College, agreed with Slattery that the district needs to do a better job of making the educational benefits more apparent. He also believes the district would need to implement a bus system that doesn't allow children to walk more than a mile in order to make the realignment work.
But he believes the elementary school reconfiguration could have some benefits.
“Many parents brushed aside the benefit of continuity, but this will allow resources to be focused and students to get a more cohesive education,” said McCormick-Cavangh, who attended Monday’s board meeting. “Additionally, if anything, this will allow for higher level students to continue to strive toward excellence and struggling students to be helped by the more distinctly focus resource centers.”
Lauro is scheduled to present his budget proposal for 2012-2013 to the Pelham school board on Feb. 27.