Thursday, November 02, 2006

Elementary Grade Reconfiguration Conversation

The school district met with key school community members throughout the day yesterday, in a coordinated fashion, so that all of these individuals had a chance to hear about a plan that the Board of Education is considering in association with the budgeting process. The goal was to have as many school community groups hear directly from the school.

Esther Pennell, School Business Administrator, and I held yesterday’s meetings with the following groups:

• Woodbury Education Association leadership
• Woodbury School Administration
• Woodbury City Council representatives and the Mayor
• Officers from the various Woodbury school parent organizations

The board has NOT made any decision regarding the matters discussed (specifically – the potential of closing Walnut School and reconfiguring the grades for elementary education into PK-1 at Evergreen and 2-5 at West End). The only decision was to inform the public that the board is considering options and to provide the opportunity for the broader school community to contribute to the conversation.

There are two fact sheets that will be available today at all school offices – one is a list of the advantages and disadvantages of the reconfiguration concept and the other is a detail of the financial impact. These sheets will help you understand the reasoning behind why the consideration of this reconfiguration is happening at this time. Later today, this information will also be posted on the district website.

In addition to the significant cost savings (up to $650,000 in annual operating expenses), the plan also has another important advantage – the inclusion of two classrooms dedicated to full-day preschool. Obviously, the most significant disadvantage is the fact that Woodbury is a walking district and the change would increase the travel distances to school.

Again, the intention has been to assure that as many groups as possible hear the information regarding the potential change directly from the school. A press release was issued late yesterday and an article is in the Gloucester County Times today. The article did not include the fact that there will be three special Board of Education meetings in November specifically designed take testimony on this topic from the public (November 13 at Walnut, November 14 at Evergreen, and November 20 at West End). These meetings will be held in the All Purpose Rooms and will begin at 7:00 p.m. (An article also appears in today's Courier-Post, and it includes all this information.)

Additionally, Mrs. Pennell and I attended last night’s Evergreen PTO meeting. We will be at the Walnut and West End parent organization meetings today.

I appreciate your patience. The most important aspect of this effort is to insure that all have an opportunity to add to the list of advantages and disadvantages prior to the board making any final decision. The Board of Education plans to discuss this matter at both of their upcoming, regularly scheduled meetings but a final decision will not be happen until the December meeting.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mr. Jones- You do not care about the welfare of our children. All you care about it making a name for yourself. You are chasing some of the districts best teachers away because of your so called wonderful changes.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Jones - It was shocking to read in the newspaper about the changes that are being discussed. We,tax payers and parents of school children, should have been notified before the papers. It seems that the school board is trying to go about this major revamping with only minor input from the taxpayers and in very short period of time. How long has the school board been looking into this? Since before we agreed to the upgrades to ALL the schools? This is not the way to go about bringing changes to the school system. It has left some very bad feelings for you and the board.

Anonymous said...

I applaud your attempt to bring some fiscal and educational responsibility to the district and hope that other parents will take the time to evaluate the documentation you have presented. Parents and taxpayers alike need to understand that the schools are faced with a very serious financial situation.

I have long thought that the use of Walnut Street was financially questionable. The problem lies, however, with the safety concerns that arise when children, particularly younger students, have to travel across the very heavily traveled streets. Without accommodation this almost necessitates the existence of the school. The plan, as proposed, actually worsens the situation by having more young students travel farther to reach their schools. I’m sure this has been considered and would appreciate any solutions considered by yourself and the board.

I believe that we are all concerned for the safety of the children and hope that we can deal with this in a mature manner checking the accusations at the door!

Anonymous said...

I find it highly suspect that just 2 years ago, taxpayers were asked to "look beyond your wallets and do the right thing" in supporting the referendum and now we're supposed to make this decision on a purely financial basis, instead of what's best for the students. We agreed to these repairs and we agreed to the bill. The tax relief is supposed to be coming from the Green Acres grant and the Energy grant for switching to Geo thermal, not closing a school. Where is our money?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps two years ago we had a superintendent who was interested in educating our children without concern for our wallets and now we have one that still wants our children to have an excellent education but understands economy!

Anonymous said...

Seems the elected officials that make up the school board have little concern about the voters of the district. The same voters that put them on the board also approved the referendum to upgrade all 4 schools and passed a budget for all 4 schools. These same community memebers came out in full force when Walnut needed a new playground. Yet in the boards infinate wisdom they decided that the voters do not know what they are talking about. The talk about closing Walnut has been around since before the referendum and I have heard that some of the bids for the geothermal were without Walnut included as it would most likely be closed. Not only is closing the school wrong for the safety and educational concerns of our children (Walnut is the only school to recieve a passing grade on the No Child Left Behind) but it is coming about as sneaky and coniving from the board. That lends to the question, what else do they have hidden up their sleeves.

Anonymous said...

Still having mixed feelings about this new plan, it is hard not to let emotions cloud judgement. However, it should be known that Walnut is not the only school to receive a passing grade based on NCLB. West End received passing scores this past year as well. Walnut has wonderful teachers who do an excellent job teaching all populations, but these test results can be seriously misleading. Walnut's numbers are too small to count in the mandated subgroups of NCLB based on race, socio-economic, spec. ed groupings. These subgroups are what count in a school making AYP and what the GCT publishes. In fact, if these sub-groups were taken away, both other elementary schools would rank along with Walnut in test score averages. When Walnut's results are published, they aren't scrutinized the way the other two larger elementary schools are because their numbers per class size and sub-group remain under 20 students. For example, the way the NCLB law states, a child who is non-white, poor, and in special ed will count three times when determining sub-groupings, which is why so many in the education field have issues with this law.

We need to keep in mind what plan Mr. Jones is working towards. All the districts classrooms use the same curriculum to reach their students. Academics would only be strenghtened as teams of teachers work along side of each other. The real issue still needs to be addressed...the safety of all students and at what price.

Anonymous said...

I too agree, Mr. Jones is all about the money. If the tax payers of woodbury are willing to pay higer taxes for Walnut to stay open then I think it should be their choice to close it. Woodbury should VOTE on it. It is not FAIR for the board members or the superintendent to make that call. The parents and taxpayers should!

Anonymous said...

On another note, I really don't care for the way Mr. Jones goes about hiring new teachers. It isn't about who is the best teacher, it is about who is more ethnically diverse. So you parents may not be gettting the best teacher for your child. But at LEAST we have some diverse teachers! They may be bad teachers, but at least we have a colorful school!

I do not think Mr. Jones is good for this school district! He is all about looking good and NOT about doing what is right for your children.

Anonymous said...

People of woodbury need to come together and save our school and save our teachers! I think it is HORRIABLE that 6 teachers would have to be let go. It is not fair to up root not only the students but the teachers as well. Did anyone give any thought to that? All Mr. Jones and the board care about is saving money, do they CARE that they will be putting alot of people out of work!

Anonymous said...

Also there will be no savings. As checked on Mapquest and driven by several concerned parents, we have students that live 2.12 or more miles from the school they would be forced to attend. State law mandates busing over 2 miles. Bus driver, buses, insurance, maintenance costs....There goes the savings. Woodbury IS a walking district with 3 elementary schools, but not with 2.

Joseph Jones said...

I understand that some are venting frustration. It is best if I focus on the questions raised by the reconfiguration concept. I think the questions asked above include:

1. What is being considered for safety of the children? The original design looked at the fact that the state does not require bussing outside a two-mile radius for elementary students and asks if that will work for us in Woodbury. The comments at the early meetings we have held have focused on raising questions regarding this aspect of the design. A number of suggestions have been put forth regarding possible bussing arrangements; these are being explored. Obviously, this increased walking distance could ultimately be a reason why it is decided that this reconfiguration should not occur.
2. I thought the tax relief was to be achieved through Green Acres funding and the new geothermal HVAC – not closing a school? Yes. We are receiving some tax relief through the Green Acres funding – it has helped to offset a portion of the tax burden specifically associated with financing the last referendum, but it does not provide any help with our regular operating budget. The new geothermal will also help with cost associated with heat, but this is a savings in just this one aspect of the school budget. Each year, we are looking for additional ways to do better with our financial picture.
3. Walnut was not put out to bid for geothermal? Walnut was included both of the times we bid the geothermal work. Unfortunately, each time the cost for the geothermal came in higher than the funds available for the work at Walnut. Therefore, the architects are currently designing an alternative system using a “heat pump” process that will still provide the same upgraded heating and cooling to all classrooms.

Anonymous said...

Take a look at what the administrators are paid. Gee, do you think maybe that is contributing to our "financial" problems??!!

Anonymous said...

Looking at the total savings listed on the report the town will save about $654,000 (if nothing comes up)over 3 years. Is it worth the safety issues, larger class size and transportation problems that will affect all 3 schools for a little over $200,000 a year?

Joseph Jones said...

For clarification purposes, the total reduction to operating expenses realized will be approximately $650,000 annually. The spreadsheet tries to show that we would need to do some upgrades to the parking lots and drop-off areas at the other two schools and, as a result, the savings for the first few years (three) would be approximately $340,000.

Anonymous said...

And out of that $650,000, how much will be needed to pay for busing, drivers, insurance, maintanence, a garage to house the buses extra crossing gaurds that will be needed to meet the increase in foot and vehicle traffic to the other schools (the parking and drop off may get up graded, but the highways will only be able to handle the same amount of traffic). It seems to keep coming back to money. We are more concerned with the quality of life and standard of education for our students.

Anonymous said...

Any consideration given to the 25,000.00 playground that Walnut Street parents put in 2 years ago with the driving assistance of Mr. Depalma?

Anonymous said...

I do agree that there will be some great financial changes immediately, but for how long. What happens when a child gets hurt because a parent does not have a car to take their children to school. This may be a great idea in the long run, but how do you expect to get these children to school? Many Woodbury parents do not have the financial benefit of taking their kids to school in a car, nor the time to walk them from the Walnut area all the way to West End. But, how dare you start a campaign about keeping it
"personal" and then launch this on a tight knit society through the newspaper. If you really wanted to make it "personal" with your community this would have been discussed with a town meeting or presented in a more "personal" manner. Now, this grave decision, that will effect the whole town, will be decided by a board of people who do not even care what happens to the schools or teachers in this town (which we saw last year with the teacher's contract problems). It seems to me that you do not mean to keep it personal, you mean to keep it cheap. So... how about you say what you mean!

Jessica S. Nowak, Delaware St., Woodbury said...

Perhaps a better way to approach this issue would be to look at it as an opportunity, a time for change and rejuvenation, not destruction and downsizing. Why not shift the focus from breaking down established town infrastructure to revitalizing Woodbury as a whole. If the core issue is money, let's say for argument's sake it is; why not work together with organizations such as the Main Street committee to bring more businesses into Woodbury? This would generate more tax revenue without burdening the already encumbered citizens of Woodbury. In the big picture, it would also be a great asset to the continued growth and development of a town that has so much untapped potential.