To whatever degree a proposal to reduce city elementery schools from three to two is a trial balloon, in a meeting with parents at Robert Morris School on Tuesday night, it went down like a lead Zeppelin.
If Batavia City Schools Superintendent Margeret Puzio (top photo) hoped to woo some of the 70 parents in attendance, she would have been hard-pressed to find one fan of the idea by the end of the meeting.
Even parents who saw the need -- such as Phil Ricci, a budget ambassador for the school district -- said they hated the idea.
A consolidation of school districts -- one proposal shutters the current administration building and converts Robert Morris into new district headquarters -- would save as much as $1 million annually.
In an era of declining state aid combined with a property tax cap, the district board is forced to find ways to reduce spending that is "thinking outside the box," Puzio said.
She said if the 2-percent property tax cap had passed a year earlier, it would have led to a budget shortfall of $426,064. The cap would have limited the recent property tax increase to $280,106, instead of the $706,170 actually raised.
Plus, the district relied on a one-time federal grant of $567,584 to help balance the budget in 2011-12.
But on Monday night, there were times when parents seemed to simply oppose consolidation of the district's elementary schools regardless of budgetary constraints.
"It doesn’t seem we have a chance for honest input," Caroline Richardson said (first insert photo). "It seems like the decision is already made. It seems like there are no other options other than cutting down our programs again."
The consolidation proposals all involve the district selling its current administration building and then locating those offices to one of the elementary schools.
In each case, students are shuffled in a way that all grades would be at one school or another, such as all K-2 students at John Kennedy or all fifth-grade students at Batavia Middle School.
Cost savings would be achieved primarily through the elimination of some school-level administration and possibily some teaching positions.
The plans all end the idea of community schools serving K-5 students in their own neighborhood.
And that seemed to be the biggest sticking point for parents.
Some parents noted that under the proposals, instead of having their three children at one school, such as Robert Morris, they would end up with a kindergartner at one school, a third-grader at another school and their fifth-grader in the middle school.
Bonnie Vickery pointed out that schools rely on a lot of parent involvement both for educational support and fund raising.
If students are at more distant schools, and in some cases students will only be at a particular school for a couple of years, parents will be less likely to get involved, Lisa Macdonough (second inset photo).
"It's going to hurt schools way more than you realize," Vickery said. "I know the board is doing the best that it can and I know you want to do the best for the students, but there is a sense of community that is going to be lost."
While Puzio pointed to educational advantages of putting, say, all the second graders in one school instead of three, many parents weren't buying it.
A couple of parents cited reports they said showed that students who attended community schools achieved higher test scores, and students who made fewer transfers from school to school are more likely to graduate from high school.
"There are other options you need to be looking at that don't effect the children," Richardson said. "This is a community that has a lot of children in it who are disadvantaged to begin with and now we're going to disadvantage them again by taking them out of their neighborhoods."
Another person said many parents bought their homes where they did to be close to a community-based school, which brought a round of applause from other parents.
Puzio explained that part of the school district's goal was to preserve class size, which in Batavia is traditionally 20 students per class.
But when Macdonough said she would accept more students per class if it meant preserving community schools, nearly every parent applauded.
Another parent picked up the theme.
"Studies have shown that with a quality teacher who wants to be there, class size has little effect," Janelle Marble said. "We need to cultivate good teachers who want to be in their classrooms, who love teaching."
Near the end of the meeting, Ricci spoke up and said when he heard the consolidation plan, he became frustrated. He likes having his children attend Robert Morris, but he also knows the school district is facing a difficult budget situation and the board is doing the best it can on behalf of the children.
"I know all of these guys and know they are not trying to screw over the kids," Ricci said. "If this doesn't work, and it might not work, we as a community need to come together and come up with other options."
A group of parents are organizing a communitywide meeting to discuss consolidation at 7 p.m., Sept. 26, at
Richmond Memorial Library. (Location TBD)