GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Opinion

July 31, 2013

Letter: City needs study on school consolidation

To the editor:

As pointed out in Gordon Baird’s column of July 29 (“Fishtown Local: The moving game pieces at Fuller School”), the current city administration and School Committee share a huge credibility gap when it comes to long-term planning for the maintenance and/or replacement of city school buildings, including the Fuller School.

Mr. Baird asks exactly the right question about who should get to decide whether and when every crumbling neighborhood school will be replaced or rehabbed at a cost of perhaps $30 million each.

On the other hand, some consolidation of our five elementary schools (perhaps into two schools — one for Grades K-2 and the other for Grades 3-5 — could potentially reap considerable financial and educational benefits:

Substantial reductions in duplicated administrative costs, in physical plant costs (building maintenance, heat, water, electricity, etc.), and in costs for cafeteria and janitorial services;

An economy of scale that could provide better centralized services and facilities — including science labs, computer equipment, musical instruments, citywide choral and drama activities, sports and physical education facilities, etc. at a lower per-pupil cost;

Greater pooled resources for specialized instruction including special needs education;

A better-coordinated curriculum and more uniform implementation and assessment of standards for instruction; and the promotion of greater interaction among district elementary teachers that could lead to more effective and innovative instruction.

I believe it is urgent that the City Council consult a neutral third-party educational planning firm that could actually crunch the numbers across all the schools (not just for the West Parish project), and run appropriate analyses for various long-term scenarios.

Those include efforts that will support improved educational outcomes and that take into consideration factors such as likely enrollment projections, projected expenses vs. revenues (including potential revenue from selling or leasing existing school property and expanding the tax base), Gloucester’s current economic realities and the competing demands on available resources.

More comprehensive and reliable data from a source other than the School Committee would allow us to make better-informed choices and help restore administrative credibility within our community.

That would be well worth the modest investment needed to gather such information.

IRA J. YAVNER

Gloucester

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