Letter to the editor: More than cash for school closure
Although I cannot dispute that the Addison Central School District’s push to consolidate our elementary schools is one plausible solution to what they deem a taxpayer issue, as an elementary school parent of four I cannot help but question if the board’s emphasis is being placed on the wrong syllable. Yes, closing schools and creating larger class sizes at fewer facilities will cut costs, but are the cut costs worth the impacts on our children and are the costs they are proposing even reasonable to begin with?
At the Ripton Elementary School classes consist of two grades, together averaging 16 students, in modest size rooms that are far from empty. The combined grades enable students to work at their own pace which ensures individuals can simultaneously excel and safely struggle in their studies without leaving them bored or pushing them to the next grade preemptively. Were these students to be grouped exclusively by age in larger classes, their individual needs are far more apt to fall through cracks in a cookie cutter all-as-one group curriculum making their access to education simply streamlined rather than equitable, let alone improved.
If we look to examples of multi-age elementary class graduates such as Michelle Obama, isn’t it worth considering that this multi-grade small class environment grants flexibility for kids to develop with confidence rather stifling or stigmatizing them in a rigid grade level by grade level itinerary? To quote her book “Becoming,” Obama states that in grouping students by ability rather than age “there was a clear sense the school had invested in us, which I think made us try harder and feel better about ourselves.” Who can justify that outcome as a line item worth removing?
Conversely, are we sure that our cost discussions focus on the real and present needs of each facility? In the 2017 district wide facility assessment discussed in the spring, the largest singular line item for Ripton Elementary School was $311,000 for a paved parking lot. While a couple of handicapped accessible parking spots is an appropriate and necessary improvement, in what universe does it make sense to spend such a sum of money on asphalt when the majority of our town roads are gravel and the mere act of paving the lot would increase annual ice removal and asphalt repair cost to taxpayers. Furthermore, how does going from gravel to asphalt better educate my child? Is avoiding that line item worth busing our children half an hour — or dramatically increasing the already long ride for the children of Granville, Hancock or Rochester to over an hour one way — really in the best interest of equitable access to education?
As is denoted in the pre-k lesson of needs verses wants, planning for such irresponsible spending is a burden the board is unduly putting on taxpayers that will not benefit the children.
The bottom line the ACSD board wants our community to weigh when discussing the facilities master plan is money. If that is truly their primary concern then we must scrupulously look at how the plan to spend our hard earned pennies are to benefit our collective future. Education has time and again proven to be the leverage individuals and communities need to create opportunities and the value of those opportunities is directly proportionate to the time, effort and funding we put in them now. My vote is to invest in our future wisely: to plan and fund our school district facilities and staff so as to enable positive outcomes and to discard this fictitious picture of cookie cutter uniformity that comes with fresh asphalt and an expectation of homogeneously gifted cohorts of same-age children marching in step through a fixed curriculum.