When the Howell Public Schools Facilities and Operations Committee held an information session on Thursday night the original intention was to show the public a plan that would have resulted in more than 100 students changing schools for the upcoming year. By the time the meeting was over the committee had changed its recommendation to the board though members and administrators said deferring for even a year could mean larger changes for the 2015 school year.
Thursday night’s meeting at Middle School North brought a modest crowd from the community, including many parents whose children would be impacted. The changes would mean moving students from places along the Route 33 corridor, the Adelphia Greens neighborhood and residents north of Route 195 to new locations. Parents who spoke described how sad their children were to be forced to leave schools they had known for anywhere from one to five years.
There were also questions presented by parents about the proposed move of the district’s gifted and talented program from the more centrally located Land O Pines School to Greenville School in the Ramtown section of town.
In the end the discussion came down to numbers and the impact moving only a handful, sometimes as few as one or two children, in a grade from one school to another. Superintendent Enid Golden said the numbers the demographer had been presented with when the committee started its work were done before the district implemented full day kindergarten. Golden said with those new numbers as well as a new strategic plan in the works for the spring the district could have different goals than they had originally thought.
With a unanimous vote the committee changed their recommendation to deferring the rebalancing a year. Golden said that while the board of education could still decide to pursue the rebalancing for the upcoming year, something will have to be done. “The demographer did a study that showed that some buildings were going to stay the same and some schools were going to go down to around 250 students,” she said of the five year projections. “This has to happen. People are happy tonight, I don’t know if they’re going to be happy next year.”
Golden said that after the strategic plan is done and takes factors like the new common core standards, state tests and class sizes, she hopes the community will be supportive of whatever plan is presented for the following year. “Maybe if they rally around class size there will be a reason for it,” she said.
Under the proposed plan, Golden said schools would have seen their populations shift but the impact on class sizes would not have been significant in most cases. “If we were taking 25 kids from a school it wouldn’t necessarily be 25 fourth graders. It would give the schools breathing room, but it wouldn’t necessarily lower class sizes.
Board member Al Miller who served as the committee chair had at one point been the last member to vote in favor of presenting the original plan to the full board next month. After further discussion he agreed to back the plan to defer for a year, though also agreed that something needs to happen for the 2015 school year.
Miller credited fellow board member Stephen M. Levine for suggesting at an earlier meeting that the committee look closer at class sizes with all the changes coming next year. “We need to look at it,” he said. “It needs to be done.”
When the committee first started doing its work Miller said they were looking at a rebalancing with the goal of keeping buildings at 85 percent of capacity. That number was moved to 92 percent with the goal being to impact as few people as possible. “That really doesn’t have enough cushion for the declining class size,” he said.
The proposed plan can be found here. The proposal from the committee will be brought to the full board at their next meeting on January 7.