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September 13, 2011 - 11:44pm

Parents at Robert Morris express concerns about school consolidation ideas

posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, schools, education, City Schools.

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)

Frank Bartholomew
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Howard,did anyone from the board explain cost reductions through consolidation? Did they have any actual figures to support the idea? The argument of having three children at one school seems a bit questionable, unless of couse they are triplets, otherwise at some point, they will attend seperate schools with or without consolidation.

Mike Weaver
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Sounds to me like alot of folks that are afraid of change. The school district that I grew up in was as big as Batavia's and had one elementary school for K-3 and another for grades 4-6. It worked well. We all made it through OK and they weren't community schools.

Lori Silvernail
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Let's say you have 3 children, all in an elementary grade. Since the schools would no longer be related to the community in which you live, theoretically:

Two children would be bussed, and one would walk. In this day and age, who would want a child younger than 4th or 5th grade walking alone to school? Probably a parent should be walking with them to school, or taking them by car and dropping them off. Who stays with the other 2 as they wait for the bus?

School plays, award assemblies, parent/teacher conferences... a logistics nightmare.

Fundraising sales would likely all fall at different times for different schools. It's bad enough that the taxes around here aren't supposedly covering school related activities (I don't buy that), but for years now, little kids are being forced to sell overpriced crap on a regular basis.

Having to relearn a school layout every 2 years is ridiculous and unnecessarily stressful for the children.

The district is already cutting music programs, yet they will continue to leave sports alone despite the fact that there are sports activities available outside the realm of the schools.

I have no horse in this race, but I find the whole thing BS. I was proud to say that I went to Robert Morris Elementary School. We lost Brooklyn School a long time ago, leave the others the way they are and start cutting expenses at the TOP for once.

Carissa Helsdon
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I really like the idea that a parent brought up about having grades K-5th in BOTH schools whether it's Robert Morris or JK. My youngest son needed to have his older brother there when starting Kindergarten. It helped him adjust. UPK can be anywhere as far as I am concerned, since they do have it at the YMCA as well. (and there used to be one at Head Start). Pre-k only runs for a couple of hours. I don't agree with placing 5th grade in the Middle School AT ALL! 5th grade should either be with K-4th or one of the parents brought up the idea of having 5th grade at Jackson. My wish is to attend the parent meeting at the Library. I think there can be even better ideas than the 4 options the board has to choose from, and I really hope the board considers some of the parents' wonderful ideas. After all, we are the ones having to deal with all that transportation, and having all the grades in 2 schools, would eliminate a lot of that.

Lori Silvernail
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How soon after the decision is made will we hear that the district can't afford the costs of bussing anymore? I don't know what the distance rules are for bussing elementary school students, but I'm sure there will be a lot more of it going on if there are only 2 grades at each school. Can you even imagine the loggerjam at (especially) the school for the youngest of children each morning and afternoon if the parents have to drive them?

John Roach
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This will not be the first time Batavia has had this issue. The Brooklyn school Lorie mentioned is an example. There was also a school on Williams St once also. If it happens again, the world will not end. But I can understand no parent wanting their very young kid(s) going too far from home.

Jeremiah Pedro
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I like Carrisa's Idea. I have my oldest child starting Kindergarten this year with two more a few years behind. Having three children at two different elementary schools is going to be a nightmare. Mike, I'm not afraid of change I'm afraid that the constant change will have a negative affect on my children's education. A five year old doesn't care if their sister or brother is at another school until mommy and daddy can't both be at the school play because they had to go to sister or brothers school function. Having older kids at different schools like middle school and high school is another animal all together so please don't try to compare.
The BOE needs to be open to ideas from the parents. The impression I got from the BOE meeting on Monday night was that they have already made the decision to consolidate and now they are just trying to work out the details. That is fine, we elected these people to make the tough choices and that's what they are doing. However, they are not all knowing gods that can't be bothered by mere parents. They should be open to ideas from the parents with regard to the consolidation. Don't just smile and nod either, show a genuine interest.
The BOE is making this decision in order to save programs and shore up budget shortfalls in response to reduced state aid and because the property tax cap.
What happens when there is a budget gap next year? Or what happens when standardized test scores drop? What happens when enrollment increases? Will the consolidation provide for room for expansion? Is their no fat to be trimmed at the top? Why must the teachers and music and arts always bare the burden of cuts?

Carissa Helsdon
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Lori, you are right..Bussing would be a big problem especially for me, "a Jackson" mom and we lose our school enitirely. Jackson parents would be scrambling to figure out bussing and transportation. One mom brought up a great idea for bussing and hopefully the board took notes...but if my young son/daughter can adjust by having their older sibling there, (whatever they decide), I pray that my kids can be together...and thank you Jeremiah, for liking the idea and seeing where I am coming from. :)

Mike Weaver
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Every concern mentioned so far in these comments can be worked through in a system like the one proposed. Other school districts are doing it so there are plenty of blueprints to work from. Bus schedules are not terribly complicated. Assemblies, concerts, etc can all be worked out with a simple centralized district schedule. They probably even have one that they are already using. Our children are much more adaptable than we give them credit for. Learning a new hallway every few years isn't traumatic. It is probably much more traumatic to the parents than it is to the children.

I suppose none of you will complain next year when the school tax rate goes up to cover a $1M deficit.

Brenda Ranney
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Howard, I would love to read a piece on what is the function of a school superintendent in general, what our superintendent does for us, and how that compares to similar communities, along with salary & benefits.
Also if there are examples of school districts who don't use a superintendent and what that system is.
I have nothing against our current superintendent I just really want to understand the why behind the need to have such a high salaried position. I know that higher the pay the better candidates the job will attract. I appreciate the educational credentials ect. but why ... I guess what I'm asking is if that position simply ceased to exist would our city school district grind to a halt ?

What is the second highest paid position in our school district ?

Lori Silvernail
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None of this happened overnight. Yet the 4 options tossed out there felt like a blindside. As I said before, I have no horse in this race, but it just looks like decisions were made and are now being shoved down people's throats. To hell with how it affects the families, there can't possibly be any other viable options out there. I'm sure given all of the intelligent adults in this community, other options could be explored.

The comment, "I suppose none of you will complain next year when the school tax rate goes up to cover a $1M deficit," of COURSE nobody wants taxes raised, geesh! But sign me up for eliminating sports first. I have nothing against them on a personal level, but they are expensive and are no more important than music or art, yet they're untouchable. There are football, soccer, baseball, softball, and who knows what other activities available outside of the school system.

I have a relative who teaches in South Carolina, and the teachers are responsible for units such as 4th and 5th grade Science. If the elementary schools were left as is, the teachers could teach subjects like that and travel between the schools. THAT, I think would be an easy schedule to deal with, far easier than re-routing buses and reworking the school buildings. How much will it cost to rewire for computers and telephones, and change the organization of the rooms to work as a business environment?

Ahh, so much to talk about and consider with this situation. There needs to be far more discussion, IMO

Carissa Helsdon
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The bussing idea that was brought up with the idea I gave ( 2 schools grades K-5th) was that Jackson students could still be picked up AND dropped off at the bus loop if they are transferred to RM or JK. That way, the Jackson bus loop could STILL be used and the parents wouldn't have to go every which way- trying to pick up or drop off their kids. They wouldn't save money with bussing, but they would sure save a lot of hassle with too many people crowding around RM or even JK..Does this make sense?.This would work for any of the schools, not just Jax.
Mike, I totally agree that kids can adapt, but it IS easier to have my kids together, esp for transportation.
I also agree that one of the 4 options may work out, while I also believe that there could be even BETTER options out there. There are some parents with incredible intelligence that are using their awesome abilities. As long as there is respect for the parents and their ideas, then I totally agree in saving money. Some parents were very upset with Puzio and some of her remarks. She was "condescending" and "disrespectful" at the meeting

Jeremiah Pedro
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Mike,

You are correct about the centralized calender, good point.
However, I still have concerns about the way the consolidation plans came about.
The district hired an architectural firm to come up with the consolidation options.
At least that is what I get from the firm's name being on the power point presentation.
Margret Puzio already made it clear that the consolidation is happening. That's not my argument. Logistics and money spent or money that will need to be spent that is where my concerns rest.

* How much will it cost to shutter the admin offices and then move them to another building cost?
* How much will it cost to refit which ever school is eventually chosen for the new admin office?
* How much will transportation cost increase?
* How much did the district spend to hire Young + Wright Architectural ?
* What happens if after the consolidation there is still a budget gap?

Carissa Helsdon
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Absolutely great point!! The parents need to know where the money is going. To say that "this consolidation is going to be decided anyways" (whether we like it or not)..is bull!
I like Brenda's comment above.

George Richardson
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"it went down like a lead Zeppelin."
As my dad would have said: Well, that went over like a beer fart in church.
Does the Pope Poop?

John Roach
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The budget gap, either this year or next, or even after that is the problem. The property tax cap is going to limit how much can be raised, so consolidation and cut backs are coming. And, we have not seen the promised unfunded mandate relief we were promised.

Jeremiah Pedro
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I'm new to the "game" and was wondering if some of you in the "know" could help me out.
How many school districts are there in Genesee county?
I understand that they all operate independent of each other, but could certain admin services be "consolidated" for the various districts that would result in an added savings?
The superintendent for example is like the CEO of a corporation right?
How many CEO's out there, in the so called real world, work as CEO's for multiple large corporations? If we consolidated some of the superintendent positions this could save all the different districts some money right?

Elizabeth Blanch
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What ever happend to all the Land the school own's becouse they wanted a new Elem. School becouse there was not enought room the land off of Sout Main/River. If the School is so short on money Why have they not sold it! Now I do not have children in school but I do have school Tax, and this has been tossed around off and on for years. It was a bad idea then and is still one.

Julie Taggart
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My question is-if this is the ONLY way-why so secretive? And if so dire-why are programs for elementary consistently being cut and NOT in the upper grades? What people fail to realize is that there seems to be favoritism and no equity in the cuts-why no reductions to ANY sports programs in Batavia? Why do the little kids have to suffer with no arts, music, etc? Isn't this their FOUNDATION for future education? And why did I know about turf, turf, turf at the last budget vote but NOT a word about a possible consolidation coming to my house, home from school with the kids or in the budget PowerPoint presentations? That information should have been made public during discussion of the budget. And if people who do not have children or have older children do not want to pay school taxes and don't feel that this affects them-then wait until we have no young people here to build buildings, fix infrasturcture, work in our nursing homes, work in government, speak out against the wrongs of society, help the less fortunate. Wait until there isn't a doctor to go to, a lawyer, or any kind of assisstance. There will be no one here to do it. And if people leave the district, we will have higher taxes because there will be no young professionals with kids that you can tax.

Shannon Mellander
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Should Margret Puzio go? My name is John Mellander, I have had trouble opening an account, so I am writing this through my wife's account. I just had a few things I wanted to say. I think as a community we need to make sure the board understands that these options are not OK. But we also need to come up with ideas for them to save the money. They say this is a yearly savings of one million. So it might be helpful to suggest ideas that would save this amount, without school closings, or hurting students. Margret has demonstrated that she is not fit to lead the school through these tough times, maybe the start is to get rid of her? We don't need a leader who thinks the parents are a bunch of kids who can't understand what she and the board are doing. Margret did say that we the reserves to dip into to make it through next year, maybe the best idea is to slow this down, wait one year, and get more input from the community.

Mark Janofsky
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Jeremiah,

There are 8 school districts in Genesee County. In my opinion, there are only enough students for 3.

Take a look at the brief, at this link: http://www.regional-institute.buffalo.edu/research/series.cfm?ID=63&Seri... it may answer your questions.

Steve Ognibene
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Does anyone know where the communitywide parent meeting will be on Sept 26th at 7pm?

Janelle Marble
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From what I understand transportation costs are state aidable so the extra costs will be minimal
minimal cost to mov equipment
20,000? a one time cost to rewire the schools I think thats what they said
I think the school district had to take part in a study to have the building usage evaluated
In option 4 prek and administration would be at robert morris this leaves room for expansion the whole building will not be in use

Someone brought up long bus rides I went to country school and I'm sorry but thats what country kids deal with everyday and they survive.

I don't think this will be the traumatic experience everyone claims.

Country schools Pembroke for example run k-2 3-6 7-12 I see no long term effects from this
I do feel as Puzio was a bit condesending. But she was also being attacked. Like I said right from the beginning of the meeting Having good quality teachers who want to be there will let us be able to have bigger class size with little effect. As far as home school association not having members a thought occurred to me Isnt this on the parents if they dont join up also whats to say lower and higher elementary can't work together there will still be the same amount of parents involved . I feel as though this point was made an made me think it really doesn't hold. As far as parents being children who don't understand It may be true to some extent if they came to us with 20 options if would be so much more confusing and people would be getting so much more upset. A person is smart people are stupid as a group false ideas rumors and fear take over.
slow down and take the time to work together as a team to make the best possible decision might be an idea but if we dip into the reserves and need that money later will we regret it?
Children are going to be impacted either one way or another ths is our economic reality either by losing teachers or programs there are also some positives I would like to point out your child will be with the same kids all through there school lives our sense of community will be stronger. A greater selection of teachers will be availble to your child a better chance that children will get a teachers whose style will match up with there abilities.

I dont like the consolidation I do believe they are listening to the parents

Thomas Mooney
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Why is Margret our Super. , She never moved here and for some, they still beleive she has an apatment here . If a person is engaged in the community as one is when they live in the community , then the decisions are more heart felt and caring . Thus Margret doesn't live here ,barely works here ,and does no shopping or anything else here . Why would we think she has Batavia's best interest in mind ? I would like to see a detailed spread sheet as to what cuts will be made from the Administration Dept. first ,then the rest of the departments. Cut from the top down . Eliminate duplicate sports (indoor track for example) unmandated after school programs ( chess club that has a 1500 stipend along with many others ) The two secrataries that Margret has along with other administrations excessive support help.

Jeremiah Pedro
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Any source to site on that busing being covered by state aid, Janelle?
I'm only curious because Margret Puzio said reduced state aid is one of the main reasons why our district is in this situation in the first place.

Janelle Marble
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Puzio said it several times during the neeting as parents were bringing it up alot she stated that it was mostly state aidable I guess its different that regualr money maybe a seperate section Idk but she said it several times.

Steve Ognibene
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Then when that runs out then they will revamp all the options to make the bussing more efficient. My thought is having Pre-K with the ADMINS K-4 equally and 2 elem. schools and move the 5th grade up to the middle school. Another option that was brought from a parent could be ADMINS Pre-K and 1/2 day K together and 1-5 equally at 2 elementary schools and not change the middle school.

Michael Taggart
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The meeting has been confirmed for September 26th at 7 pm at the Richmond Memorial Library. The request was made Tuesday before the Robert Morris meeting and wasn't confirmed until Wednesday (the day of the John Kennedy meeting). I hope there is a large turnout with a lot of ideas.

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