HOWLAND - The future of the Howland Local School District's elementary program was front and center Thursday night as dozens of parents and community members turned out for an information panel discussion with school administration.
A conceptual plan to reconfigure the district's schools for 2014-15, which would include closing North Road Elementary School, was the topic during the 90-minute-long meeting.
The plan, which would save the district about $500,000 a year in general operation costs, would also call for the remaining three buildings to house students based on grade level, not geographically.
Currently, the four schools house grades K-5.
Under the new plan, all fourth- and fifth-graders will attend H.C. Mines Elementary School, second- and third-graders to Glen Elementary School, and kindergarten and first-graders to Springs Elementary School.
Koula and Stavros Anastasiades, who have two elementary school children in the district, said that they are pleased the administration is asking for feedback, but some questions remained unanswered.
"My main two concerns are transportation and classroom size," Koula Anastasiades said. "Obviously, no parent wants their kid on a bus for 45 minutes."
Transportation was the concern of many in attendance, but Superintendent John Sheets said the district would not be going forward with the concept if it was not feasible.
"We feel there would be even less riding time for students under this (plan) compared to the old system," Sheets told the parents.
The next parent informational meeting on the reconfiguration plan will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday at North Road Elementary School.
Meanwhile, classroom size will not grow if the plan goes forward.
"In fact, it will balance out class sizes and keep them at a manageable, good number for learning," Sheets said.
The reason, Sheets said, is separating the approximately 1,200 students by grade level allows teachers and administrators to divide classes evenly.
According to school officials, the buildings are currently being under-utilized.
If the plan goes forward, projected enrollments at the three remaining buildings for 2014-15 will be:
The majority of the $500,000 savings for the district, Sheets said, will come from losing one building principal and the custodial staff at North Road Elementary School. No teachers will lose their jobs based on the plan.
Tom Depoy, a father of two elementary school children in the district, said he wants to be sure the teachers are kept a part of the conversation.
"A lot of times they are left out," Depoy said. "If the teachers are happy, that will trickle down to the kids. The (administration) said they were going to meet with them, so I hope they are. I just hope they do what is best for the children."
According to Ann Marie Thigpen, district administrator for Howland schools, teachers and students will benefit from the plan.
"Having all the teachers at one grade level together in one building so that they can plan and grab good ideas from each other will be very important," Thigpen said. "All 200 students on that grade level will have the access and ability to have those strategies taught to them and all of them will have the same exact resources.
"Our teachers will be able to collaborate on what the curriculum is going to look like," she said.
The last time Howland elementary schools were reconfigured was in the mid-1980s, Sheets said. At that time, two buildings were closed.
"Enrollment in Howland has decreased significantly since the last time that happened," Sheets said.
Over the last decade, according to enrollment figures supplied by the school, numbers have dipped from about 1,350 students in 2004-05 to 1,251 in 2013-14, but the district has also added students due to open enrollment in that time.
Scott Lehman, school board member with Howland schools, said the trend of static or falling enrollment numbers is expected to continue.
"We don't honestly see anything changing in this community in the next 10 years," Lehman said. "As wonderful as it would be if it did, you have to take a look at where the population is and we really believe at this point and time and as far out as we can see, this will remain a stable population.
"This plan will meet the needs of that stable population."
Lehman said the board will continue discussing the option with the community before any legislation is enacted.
"Personally, I've worked in education for the last 50 years. I closed in Warren a lot more schools than we are closing in Howland," Lehman said. "We had parents come to meetings, but it became the necessary thing to do at the time. It became necessary because the population is shrinking."