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Community Members Express Concern Over Pelham Elementary School Reconfiguration Program

Many community members still have questions regarding a proposed plan to reconfigure elementary school in the Pelham school district.

 

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.

Shelly Boyle January 13, 2012 at 12:12 PM
Many people buy houses to be near the elementary school so their children can walk to school safely. This plan is ridiculous. It is going to make living in Pelham less desirable. People buy houses here because the schools are good and for the convenience in being near the schools and near to nyc.
JenniferS January 13, 2012 at 02:37 PM
After I spoke to Rasheed for this article, I attended the Hutchinson PTA meeting and after seeing how little research has been done on how such a plan has and has not worked in other towns (Dr. Lauro said he was or would talk with two people who used to work for him and now work in such districts... which is kind of like talking to a mirror)... and with no plan to do so in a meaningful way, according to Dr. Lauro.. And after realizing that there is no clear road map to planning this out with well-thought educational benefits that go beyond what was in the report... and after watching a teacher who works in a Princeton-type district be essentially dismissed when trying to point out what the issues are (in reality, something the teacher experiences every day at work)... well, I don't support this plan. It's not because I think it's bad for Pelham (although I see some of the negatives) or our kids... it's because I have little confidence this administration would implement such a plan with clear purpose and planning, adequate thought and in a way that benefits our children. It's certainly not much of a cost savings at, admitted by Dr. Lauro, less than 500k of savings coming from the plan itself... the other cuts would likely be made regardless. That is certainly not enough to experiment on our children without extensive (or even passable) research on and planning for educational benefits and pitfalls. --Jennifer Slattery
Charles Stern January 13, 2012 at 06:39 PM
I was at that Hutchinson PTA meeting too. Dr. Lauro spoke for 1 hour and ten minutes without taking a breath for air, and at the end the case for the elementary re-config had not been made. He did crystallize the board of ed's desire to avoid a 60% approval on the next budget vote. Lauro's comments were riddled with inconsistencies and absent of any hard evidence that there's an academic imperative for a new school configuration. In 2010 the Pelham teachers' union voted overwhelmingly (206 to 26) to open their contract to save jobs under an agreement that expires in June 2012. (BTW - teachers still received annual raises in excess of the rate of inflation in addition to step increases, so everybody won.) Lauro needs to go back to that drawing board. It's the only way to arrive at a sustainable financial basis for the district's operation. It's time to stop terrorizing homeowners and parents. Most of us have already lost considerable home value over the past several years, for reasons beyond the control of anybody in Pelham. A school reconfig will drive down property value further, there is no question. It cannot happen, and it's avoidable.
Anna March 04, 2012 at 07:58 PM
HI Pelham Parents, First, I applaud you for your efforts. Second, while I realize that you have gone through alot with your BOE and District I have to applaud them for listening to the community and taking a step back from the reconfiguration plan, at least for now. I am a parent leading a community effort in Dutchess Co against our Board's decision to reconfigure. The BOE and Admin are so disconnected from our community that we were forced to file an appeal with the State and have over 812+ residents against the plan but the Board refuses to budge or meet us half way. In fact, they have disingenuously intimated that the only way they will consider taking the plan off the table is if we give them assurances that we approve the budget in excess of the tax cap over the margin - blackmail clearly! We have done everything. I see you folks were sucessful in reaching your Board. Can you tell me what they responded to to toss the plan for now? Anna

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