Several parents and residents sounded off for nearly three hours on the Long Beach School District’s proposed options to repurpose the elementary schools at the Board of Education meeting Tuesday.
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The issues most parents who addressed the board were most concerned about included:
- the approximate $1.6 million the options are projected to initially save the district, representing about 1 percent of the overall operating costs of the budget;
- the options that call for closing East School as an elementary school to use for administrative offices;
- the impact of multiple transitions of students between buildings throughout their pre-K to elementary school careers;
- Option B calls for repurposing East School as an administration building without any change in grade configurations at the other three elementary schools;
- Option C involves reconfiguring Lido School as an early learning center for pre-K through first grade, with East, West and Lindell schools serving grades two through five;
- Option D proposes a reconfiguration of Lido, East and West schools to serve pre-K through grade one, Lindell would serve as an intermediate school for all students in grades three to five, and Lido School would house administration offices;
- Option E would repurpose East School as an administration building, reconfigure Lido and West schools as primary schools serving pre-K through grade two, and Lindell would serve as an intermediate school for all students in grades three to five.
- Option A calls for maintaining the status quo at all buildings.
The options were deemed the most educationally viable in a report of the district-commissioned Facilities Utilization Study Group. The group was tasked with developing the options in order to find more efficient use of the district’s eight buildings, in part by addressing matters such as decreasing enrollment and housing the administration offices under one roof after the original building was heavily damaged in Hurricane Sandy.
The proposed options were presented at two prior board meetings in November and December. At Tuesday’s meeting, Superintendent David Weiss presented the financial data associated with the five options, which are estimated to initially save the district about $1.6 million on a projected $123 million budget.
Savings and Educational Benefits
During his opening remarks, Weiss said that a key piece to the options is to find savings that would allow the district to sustain programs for students. “So, this is in part financial; long-term it’s about efficiencies and it’s about maintaining programs in a sustainable way over time,” he said.
While one parent who addressed the school board, Kevin Heller, said he applauded the board’s efforts to try to keep costs down, many other parents, such as Angelo Lomonte, questioned whether the amount in savings to repurpose was worth it.
“By my math, we’re talking about just about 1 percent savings,” Lomonte said. “We’re going to gamble our kids futures on one percent? Really? One percent? I’m sorry, I can’t take a one-percent gamble on my kid’s future.”
In addressing this issue, Trustee Dennis Ryan said that one reason the board was proposing the options was for educational benefits. “The primary issue for me is an educational one,” he said. “Are the children going to be better served in other schools?”
Closing East School
Kelly Martinsen was among several parents who called for removing the option to repurpose East School solely for administrative offices, citing studies that she said found property values drop when schools are closed.
"To even consider closing a school for children and opening an administration building is irresponsible thinking at best, and at worst it could lead to devastating consequences for our entire community,” Martinsen said.
Gerri Maquet, a former co-president of the district’s PTA Council, said that while the district had to move students to other schools after Hurricane-damaged buildings were under repair, moving students for repurposing was unnecessary and untimely. “I just truly believe that this is not the time to bring this up again ... with what has happened with Sandy,” Maquet said.
Ryan called the decision to close a school “extremely emotional.” “Any closing is an emotional issue … and it’s only been compounded by Sandy,” he said.
Michael DeVito, the district’s chief operating officer, said that since the district’s Sandy-damaged administration building on Lido Boulevard was closed after the storm, administrators now work in separate buildings throughout the district. The district looks to consolidate their offices under one roof because “we work better together,” DeVito said.
The cost to repair the former administration building is about $10 million, whereas the cost to renovate one of the five elementary schools for administrative offices is about $2 million, DeVito said.
He said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to reimburse the district up to 90 percent for these costs, as part of a combined $35 million in projected costs for Sandy-related rebuilding.
Making the Transition
Many parents expressed concerns about the potential negative impact that moving children to other schools could have on them. Some cited research that they said found transitions generally have negative impacts on students academically, emotionally and socially. Others said the negative impact is heightened for certain students. "Kids with special needs have a much harder time with transitions," said one parent.
Weiss agreed with some of the findings cited, but said that there is mixed evidence on many transitional issues.
“The research does suggest that transitions are problematic in performance and there are known dips when there is a transition,” he said. But he explained that once the district identifies these issues, staff such as a transition counselor can work on them. He also noted that transition will nevertheless occur if the existing structure is kept, with pre-K students moving to the new pre-K center at the Lido Complex next school year, just as pre-k students transitioned from the former Blackheath school.
“So, the question becomes where is the transition, not whether there will be one for our students,” he said.
Both Weiss and Trustee Patrick Gallagher said Tuesday that as a group the board hadn’t made a decision on the options, and they plan to gather further input from the community. The board trustees are scheduled to meet with the East School PTA at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, after which they will travel to each school to talk with staff and students as part of their input-gathering mission. On Jan. 21, the board will hold a community forum at Middle School for the same purpose.
* This story was updated at 10 a.m. on 1.15.14.