GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

October 17, 2013

Survey backs separate ME school upgrades

By James Niedzinski
Staff Writer

---- — A survey of residents throughout the Manchester Essex Regional School District shows that they’d prefer an elementary school improvement project that would renovate and repair both current schools, rather than build a new central elementary facility.

The online only survey raked in 647 responses, but Superintendent Pamela Beaudoin stressed this was just one tool to gather information. The first goal of the School Committee, she said, is to decide whether neighborhood schools are still the best fit for the regional district.

The K12 Insight report also noted that the survey should not be used as a generalization for each town’s thoughts; it only gauged people who chose to participate.

School Committee member James Haskell of Essex, who also sits on the facilities subcommittee and co-chairs the elementary school task force with his Manchester counterpart Caroline Weld, reiterated that the survey was just one input opportunity.

He said there will be public forums in both towns in November.

“(The survey) was just one step in a process we are going through,” he said, adding the results were leaning toward neighborhood schools for both towns.

“We’re still taking really small steps,” Haskell said. “Everyone in the community will get a chance to voice their opinion.”

The three options on the table for the district include renovating the schools, renovating the schools but having Essex house some grades while Manchester would take others, or building a single, unified elementary school.

A majority of the survey participants live in Manchester and are parents, according to the survey results. The survey also indicated that the majority of Essex and Manchester parents who took the survey have children who live less than 2 miles away from the current Manchester Memorial and Essex Elementary schools. And most of the parents surveyed said their children do not walk to school or take the bus.

People who took the survey did not want to see a grade breakup or a regional elementary school.

According to the results, 61 percent of those surveyed wanted to renovate and improve the schools as they are now if the regional agreement were reconfigured to allow separate spending.

As it stands now, any spending on a new school must be voted and approved by both communities.

“Both towns must approve of all spending, even if the spending will only impact a school in one of the towns,” the agreement states.

Overall, a majority of participants said they would favor the towns approving renovations separately, although 32 percent said they moderately supported a plan to approve renovations in both towns, with Manchester getting a majority of the renovations at the beginning.

To view the survey results, visit mersd.org/Pages/MERSD_WebDocs/elemfacilitiesdocs/Survey.Overview.MERSD.SC.Pres.pdf.

James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at jniedzinski@gloucestertimes.com.