Milford residents band together to help local school district

March 22nd, 2007    Author: Rodney Beckwith    Filed Under: News

Some Milford school district residents have banded together to create a new organization dedicated to providing suggestions to the school board concerning a range of issues in the district. The group, Common Ground, is designed to bring people together to create a forum where people can air their concerns, and perhaps come up with different ideas to help the district deal with funding and other challenges.

“When the levy was getting in motion for the February ballot, a group of no-voters, yes-voters and everyone in between came together,” said Common Ground communications chair Susan Kupka. “It was a small group of about 22 people, and they wanted to just find a way to open discussion and talk about the district beyond the levy. It wasn’t to get people to come to one side or the other. It was to move the district forward.”

Valerie Miller, Communications Coordinator for Milford Schools, said that Common Ground is not the first such group to form in the district in an effort to explore new avenues for the district.

"As far as organized groups, there was also New Options for Better Schools," said Miller. "Now, there is Common Ground, which has some similar members. This is community driven, not district driven, or even organized or coordinated by the district. We have Community Connections, which is a district meeting, but not a group, per se."

According to Miller, one result of such efforts was a presentation concerning the salvation of the neighborhood schools program, which is expected to be disbanded for the 2007-2008 school year. That program allows each elementary school to host neighborhood kids from kindergarten through sixth grade, but in order to save money after a recent school levy defeat, the district plans to limit each building to a certain grade range, such as grades 5-6.

"They've made one presentation to the board about neighborhood schools versus grade level schools," said Miller. "New Options presented a proposal to save money and keep neighborhood schools, but the district responded that, for a variety of reasons, that proposal wouldn't work. There were a bunch of different variables that basically negated those suggestions."

Kupka said that neighborhood schools is a focus of their efforts at this moment, calling it a common interest in the community.

"Right now, the most common concern, and we've heard from seniors, empty nesters, parochial parents and people who aren't even parents, is to keep the neighborhood schools," said Kupka. "We're confronting that issue. We will meet to discuss the neighborhood schools versus grade level schools concept. There is a plan presented to the business advisory committee that shows keeping neighborhood schools is cost effective and allows us to survive with the cuts already made."

The group is meeting March 22 to discuss neighborhood schools. Miller said that it's a positive sign to see the public getting involved, but cautioned that information disseminated needs to be correct, and that fact and opinion needs to be defined.

"From a district perspective, the fact that more people are taking a more proactive position with their schools is a good sign," said Miller. "At least they care enough to get involved. When nobody is involved, it's a horrible situation. These people are trying to have a positive impact, but the only thing the district cautions is that, when websites go up, people can get on anonymously and say whatever they want about the district and those instances can be inaccurate, but people believe them. We hope these groups will communicate reliable information."

Kupka said that Common Ground will see what else the community is interested in before deciding where to proceed next. A survey intended to help guide that effort is available in their website, www.commonground4.us.

"We have an online survey, and as the surveys come in, we can find more issues to address," said Kupka. "We don't have a formal structure yet. We have some people who were with the original group who are the core group. We just discuss things amongst ourselves. As a group, we can work towards improvement of these areas, and this is open to everyone in the community. We've heard from teachers, and we have a school board member, Debbie Marques, who has joined us. That will really help with communication. The school board needs to hear more from the public."
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