Milford district to keep neighborhood schools

March 29th, 2007    Author: Rodney Beckwith    Filed Under: News

Milford schools recently announced that the popular neighborhood schools program would remain in place, despite predictions to the contrary after the last levy attempt was struck down by voters.

The district claimed that, while neighborhood schools was a superior method of schooling, the costs would be too high to continue without additional funding. Now, however, the district has agreed to keep neighborhood schools in place at the cost of not replacing bus routes that were canceled at the beginning of the year.

“This will maintain what our system is right now,” said Valerie Miller, Communications Coordinator for Milford Schools. “As it stands, the fact that we’re continuing business as is doesn’t require the board to take action. They came to a consensus that this is the direction they are going. Really, the change was in the routes. We gave up leases on only eight buses when we went to state minimum in January. The idea at the time was it was going to be a temporary change.”

When a school levy failed last November, the district cut a portion of the daily school bus routes to compensate for a budget shortfall. According to Miller, the board planned to reinstate the routes in the next school year. However, since the public has shown acceptance to the limited bus service, the district hopes to put the $1.8 million saved by cutting the routes into maintaining the neighborhood school program.

"The board, when it realized the savings, assumed that we would be restoring transportation for the next school year," said Miller. "They were of the mind that, given the history of this district and transportation problems that existed in the late 1990s, the board thought the community would be clamoring for and demanding transportation to be restored, but when we went to state minimum, the parents adjusted. They did car pools and what was necessary to get kids to school and pick them up. We didn't hear an outcry to have transportation restored. The board reconsidered and decided that transportation may not have been as important as they thought. That was another area they could take into consideration to cut."

Neighborhood schools allows children within a geographical area to attend a nearby school throughout the elementary years. Students then move on to a centralized jr. high and high school when they've successfully completed elementary school. Under the former plan, those neighborhood schools would move to grade level schools, placing children in a certain grade range, such as grades 1-2, in the same building district-wide. That would allow the district to reduce costs by cutting teachers through increasing class sizes. Now, the district will maintain its student-teacher ratio in the neighborhood schools, but require more parents to drive their own children to school. No children living within two miles of a school will be bussed, nor would any high schooler, under the current plan.

"When this became feasible, they saw how much they could save," said Miller. "The saving is reducing the fleet we have today, dozens of buses we won't have to pay a lease or insurance for. Then, you're talking about what impact that may have on maintenance and staffing. There are a lot of variables, but the biggest ticket is lease and insurance costs. How this will affect staffing will be determined later, it's not known yet."

This decision, however, doesn't come as a surprise to some in the community. Susan Kupka, of the school advocacy group Common Ground, said that a previous community group called New Options for Better Schools presented this very plan to the board at an earlier date.

"Using the same numbers that the district used determining that they had to move to grade levels, the New Options for Better Schools organization was able to prove that it would cost more to go to grade level schools due to transportation," said Kupka. "The school is saying this is a trade off with transportation, which is inaccurate. It would cost more to go to grade level schools because of transportation. We're just saving in transportation. We're glad they were able to see it for the way it is. It was our intention to show them it would cost more to move to grade level schools. We're happy they came to the right decision."

Kupka said that her organization is looking for community input on issues of concern with the school. A survey is available on their website, www.commonground4.us.

"There are more issues to address down the road," said Kupka. "We're glad we cleared this first hurdle, but we want to hear more from the community."

Miller said that it's not known exactly how long the district will maintain the current plan, based on how future levy efforts go. Another levy attempt is definitely planned, she said, but for when is not yet certain. She said that the board is in a "holding pattern" to determine if the state legislature will make more money available for districts, or pass school funding reform legislation.xxx
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