Tonawanda News

April 25, 2013

Ken-Ton faces school consolidations

By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — TOWN OF TONAWANDA — Concerned parents of Ken-Ton students were all ears Wednesday night as they listened to a study team describe how they came up with the district’s eight consolidation options for the 2014-15 academic year. 

Notably, none of the eight options presented call for closing one of the district’s two high schools, Kenmore East and Kenmore West. The same could not be said, however, for many of the district’s middle and primary schools.

The SES Study Team, which the district hired in September to identify cost-saving plans, told the audience that the district’s situation is far from unique. 

“This is more a matter of the economy, it goes back to 2008 with the recession,” Sam Shevat, of the SES team said. “School districts paid the price for that because state aid began to be reduced.” 

Over the past seven months, the team completed a number of preliminary studies that helped them come up with the recommendations. 

“These all are a backdrop to the scenarios ... all of this is data that is related to how we developed the options, and can be part of the discussion you have over the next few weeks,” Paul Seversky, of SES, said. 

Those separate documents determined projected class sizes for future years, each building’s pupil capacity and the district’s class size goals — all of which were factored into the eight final options. 

The findings weren’t unexpected: Ken-Ton has more space than its student population requires.

“You have more pupil capacity than you need,” Seversky said, summarizing the projected enrollment figures presented Wednesday. “And only one school, Lindbergh, has had stable enrollment over the past six years.” 

The team then transitioned into their eight options, which were released to the public last week. They vary extensively and range from keeping all of the schools open to closing numerous schools and significantly changing the configuration of the district.

The option that would result in the most savings, $2,131,811, would include closing Edison Elementary, Holmes Elementary, Roosevelt Elementary and Kenmore Middle. 

Under that plan, however, students would change schools four times over the course of 13 years. 

The plan that saves the second largest amount of money would close five of the elementary schools.

Other options would include fewer systematic changes at one time, but all of the consolidation plans include closing Holmes Elementary. One of the plans would only close Holmes and Kenmore Middle — and grades 9 through 12 would stay at the two high schools. The general configuration of elementary, middle and high schools would remain the same, but the savings would be less, at $1,336,378.

Some of the other configuration options listed throughout the eight scenarios including consolidating grades 8 through 12 at the high schools, consolidating the middle schools to the Hoover campus and having Kenmore Middle only house grade 7. 

“Having grade 7 alone in the building may present a challenge, with transitioning to high school after one year in a school,” one of the SES team members said. Members of the audience nodded their heads in agreement. 

Parents and teachers who attended the meeting were able to ask questions, but the SES team declined to provide any opinions on the various options and only clarified the plans’ details. 

“In the end, the value judgment rests with you, your board, your superintendent,” Seversky said. “It’s your kids, your money. We are just guests.” 

But understandably, parents expressed concern about a number of the scenarios. 

“This is my first taste of it, and it’s very scary. I have a child in Kindergarten and a third-grader, and under one of the plans, they would never be in the same school again,” Tanya Litto, of Kenmore, said. “It’s just scary. I love Lindbergh, and I don’t want it to be broken up at all ... but it is nice to get more detailed information.”

More public meetings will take place over the next few days, and applications for a focus group are being accepted until 3 p.m. May 3. Those applications are available online. 

Then, a focus group will be chosen, and the group will meet June 8 to review all eight of the options. 

The focus group will then forward its recommendations along to the Ken-Ton Board of Education, which will then choose whether to vote on one of the plans. 

The remaining public and faculty meetings are scheduled for:

• Public presentation: Thursday at Franklin Middle at 7 p.m. 

• Faculty presentation: April 29 at Ken West at 4 p.m. 

• Public presentation: April 29 at Ken West at 7 p.m.

• Public presentation: April 30 at Hoover Middle at 7 p.m. 

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