Tonawanda News

September 14, 2012

District to create reconfiguration body

By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — The City of Tonawanda held its first regular meeting Tuesday evening after Superintendent Whitney R. Vantine announced his decision to retire next month. In addition to the search for Vantine’s replacement, the board also discussed another stressful topic —  the creation of a task force that will deal with declining enrollment numbers plaguing the district. 

“We have some serious issues, including a disproportionate amount of students at Mullen and Riverview, the highest since I’ve been here,” Vantine said. “And studies show we will have less than 1,600 students in 2020.”

That figure is compared to the roughly 1,830 students enrolled now, down from 2,200 when Vantine began in 2008. 

The board has sent out letters to invite members of previous task forces to take part in this process. 

The group could decide on a number of different options, according to Vantine, including reconfiguring the district, creating one campus, or moving a grade from Fletcher Elementary to the Middle and High School complex. 

Vantine also said that a major issue is deciding what to do with Central School and relocating the programs presently housed there.

“It’s to deal with what will happen next, what if these numbers continue to go down, what if we don’t have students to fill the seats,” Vantine said.

Vantine recommended having an outside agency facilitate the task force to eliminate any potential for bias. 

Eight previous task force members attended the meeting Tuesday and Board President Jackie Smilinich said the next board meeting on Aug. 25 will discuss a facilitator and timeline for the group. 

Smilinich also outlined its process for the ongoing superintendent search and formally announced the utilization of an advisory committee. The board will discuss who will be a part of the committee at a meeting Tuesday and any community members who are interested in taking part or nominating someone should contact a board member before the meeting. 

“We are doing this because we believe in true shared decision making,” Smilinich said.

The board will also hold a community forum on the search at the end of September. 

At the end of the meeting, board business became heated when board member Sharon Stuart brought up a letter from the district’s Civil Service Employees Independent Union that takes issue with a lack of communication and respect from the board. 

“For reasons unknown to the board members, the lines of communication, i.e., the life blood of any positive relationship have been shut down,” the letter states. 

Smilinich made a motion to have the vice presidents of both organizations meet to resolve the issue, but the majority of board members though it should be a discussion in an executive session with the entire board. 

“You say you want to work as a team, but ever since the beginning, that hasn’t been happening,” board member Lynn Casal said to Smilinich. “Some people are doing what they want to do and are circumventing the rest of us, but I am not going to sit here and silently let it happen.”

Vantine said the union hasn’t notified him of any communication problem with the board, but agreed that the meeting should include the entire body.

Smilinch agreed and said she will schedule the meeting with the union. 

“We just need to know what the problems are,” board member Diane Misner said.

Business and Finance Director Steve Perry also gave a brief presentation on transportation and busing, asking the board to consider busing middle school and high school students together.

Vantine asked for hard numbers at the next meeting on how much the combination would save in route time and money, but board members and community attendees raised some concerns.

“We should consider all of that, but also that these are 10-year-olds and 17-year-olds together,” board member Jennifer Mysliwy said.

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150.