GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Opinion

April 18, 2013

Editorial: School chairman's call for building options was long overdue

When School Committee Chairman Jonathan Pope called out both Councilor-at-large Bruce Tobey and the Times (See “School plan critics should show alternatives,” the Times, Tuesday, April 16), he actually reached out in a manner that the entire School Committee should have long before now.

For in asking for alternatives to city and school officials’ push for their current plan to build a new West Parish School — and not do anything to address any consolidation or restructuring of other schools to truly adapt for the district’s future needs and its still-shrinking enrollment — he may well draw viable alternatives that deserve to be openly aired, and perhaps be included on a potential non-binding November referendum that Tobey is seeking.

But while we can offer some alternatives, Pope and other city and school officials should recognize one option that should not be on the table in charting the district’s future. That’s simply maintaining the status quo alignment of five elementary buildings to feed into the increasingly successful O’Maley Innovation Middle School and Gloucester High.

The longer the district clings to that makeup, the more it’s becoming apparent that officials’ plans for a new West Parish really just lay the groundwork for having to build perhaps even five new elementary schools, replacing each of the current facilities in the years to come. That just won’t cut it with city voters or taxpayers — as it shouldn’t. And the time to “change course,” as Tobey suggested in his own My View column that appeared Wednesday, is now.

First, as we’ve noted in the past, building a new school to replace West Parish could work — if it were constructed to house enough students to allow the city school system to either attract “school-choice” students from other districts or perhaps housing all or part of another current school’s enrollment. Much to his credit, when Superintendent Richard Safier first drew up a West Parish plan for the state, it called for a building with a capacity pegged at 450-500 students.

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