Foil: Your right to Know.
I attended the public hearing on the proposed restructuring plan for the Suffern Central School District on October 24th, and what I saw and heard was very disconcerting.
It appears the Superintendent has outsourced the future of Suffern Central to a consulting firm known as the DM Group based in Boston MA. The School Board seems resigned to the fact that they have no choice but to rubber stamp the recommendation of these outside consultants, a recommendation that I believe will destabilize the Suffern Central School district and hasten its demise.
The plan is to close and repurpose Viola Elementary School to accommodate a lease to BOCES. The elementary school students would be consolidated into four schools under a grade banding arrangement called the “modified Princeton Plan” in which two schools would hold only K through 2nd, and the other two 3rd through 5th. In many cases, elementary age students would be bussed from one end of the district to the other and back again, each and every day, with significantly longer transportation times than they already have.
The district claims the proposed plan is necessary for the sole reason that enrollment in the public schools has declined in recent years. However, much of the decline was during the pandemic and the latest data shows that enrollment is beginning to rebound. There are many potent factors, too numerous to describe here, that point towards the very real probability that public school enrollment will increase significantly in the near future. Furthermore, if there is a structural, health, or maintenance issue that arises unexpectedly at any of the remaining schools we will face an immediate capacity crisis. Abruptly closing any elementary school at this juncture would be reckless.
The East Ramapo School District made the mistake of closing two elementary schools in recent years only to see enrollment climb dramatically thereafter. They now face a severe shortage of classroom space and acute overcrowding and are desperately searching for space to lease. In fact, when it became known that Viola School might be closed, East Ramapo parents and advocates began clamoring for the opportunity to lease it.
This presents an obvious, win-win solution that has not been considered: Excess space at the Viola and Cherry Lane Schools could be leased to East Ramapo, whose students could then attend separate classes at those two buildings. This would help ease the acute overcrowding they face and provide a revenue stream for Suffern Central. Group activities such as concerts, theatre, recess, etc., could be held jointly, increasing the peer group at every elementary grade. Resources could be shared to optimize staffing and eliminate other inefficiencies. If and when enrollment begins to climb, Suffern Central can reclaim its space, and avoid the costly and absurd predicament of having to find space to lease, right after closing one of our own buildings.
It also is concerning that the entire process has been conducted at warp speed with an apparent lack of due diligence. In the last few school board elections no candidate has mentioned the need for, nor the intent to close an elementary school. Nonetheless, shortly after the last election this past May, school closures and grade banding were suddenly put on the table. The recommendation in question was announced on October 3rd and the public hearing was held on October 24th. A final vote is now scheduled for election day, this coming Tuesday November 7th. If approved the plan is to be implemented by fall of 2024!!!
Why the mad rush? The district has said the reason for the expedited schedule is that BOCES needs to lease Viola School for the 2024-25 school year. It should go without saying that what BOCES wants should not take priority over what is good for Suffern Central. A decision like this, so fraught with uncertainty and the potential for irreparable harm to the district and its students should not be pushed through on such a short runway. The frantic pace is suspect and begs the question of who or what is really driving the “train” here? Is there some hidden agenda the public is not aware of?
The fate of the district and its students is now in the hands of the school board. Only they can protect us from the ramifications of this hasty proposal. We hope the members of the board realize that this decision is theirs to own and cannot be laid at the feet of the DM group. By voting this proposal down, the board will spare us all the grief and aggravation of the appeal and legal challenge that is certain to follow if it is approved.
Please email the Suffern Central School Board and ask them to vote no on the current proposal so that a decision on the future direction of the school district can be given the proper consideration that it deserves. The email address is: email@example.com .
For further information you can also read this paper prepared by parents of the school district that provides an alternate perspective on grade banding. Here is the link https://drive.google.com/file/d/1f87RaomtUikLdwJGW9LtWLdODsunNwrP/view?usp=drivesdk