In June, 2014, the Salem School Board established the following goal:
Utilizing available enrollment data (including future projections), facility capacities, and taking into consideration reduction of tax impacts from capital expenditures, develop and document a public plan for facility re-alignment which maintains educational opportunities for all elementary students.
Two of our elementary schools, Fisk and Barron, have classrooms currently used for purposes other than as regular student classrooms. Other elementary schools have classes that exceed our recommended maximum enrollments and no additional available space. The School Board decided to study the current circumstance and determine whether or not there are opportunities to gain efficiencies while creating equity across the school district. Further, Haigh School was not substantially renovated, and reassigning the students will provide them with access to improved facilities and better educational spaces.
For many weeks now, a committee of parents and district officials was charged with studying this matter. The group has been meeting to examine enrollment and facility data and consider possible future trends. Very soon, the committee will conclude its work and make one or more recommendations to the School Board. The group has developed the following questions and provided related answers to help clarify some of the work underway.
FAQs on 10-2-14
The following are frequently asked questions and the corresponding answers regarding the Salem School Board’s consideration for closing an elementary school and re-drawing neighborhood boundaries in an effort to more equitably distribute the elementary student population:
1. What is the possible bus route impact?
Our Bus Coordinator will work closely with First Student to review school reassignments. Currently, our longest bus runs are 35 minutes in the morning and 40-45 minutes in the afternoon depending upon traffic. We don’t intend to reduce the number of buses in service, and we don’t intend to increase lengths of the bus runs. By maintaining the same number of buses, any new routes should not be longer than the current longest bus runs.
2. Why is the school district considering creating new elementary school neighborhood boundaries?
Enrollment decreases over the past several years prompted an examination of available classroom space. In 2009, our elementary schools enrolled 1,798 students. This year, we have 1,543 students. This drop of 250 students requires us to think about creating efficiencies without diminishing student programs. Further enrollment decreases are forecasted. Creating equitable enrollments among all schools is a way to get this done.
3. What is the process for considering a re-districting plan?
A committee consisting of parents and others representing district facilities initiatives and elementary school parent groups has been reviewing neighborhood enrollment data for several weeks. This committee has given a combined hundreds of hours to the study and analysis of class sizes; available classroom spaces; current bus routes and neighborhood structures; and the impact of several re-alignment proposals. The committee will recommend one or two options for consideration to the School Board. The School Board will deliberate any and all options and make a decision about the best path forward. The Board expects to announce its decision by mid to late October, 2014.
4. Will teachers or other staff members be impacted by the decision?
We will create some efficiencies if the School Board decides to close an elementary school and re-align district neighborhood boundaries. Therefore, it is likely that some teachers and support staff members will not be needed in the future.
5. If the Board announces a decision in October, when will the changes occur?
The Board will decide later this month and the changes will take effective in August, 2015.
6. If we close a school and re-align neighborhoods, what are the projected cost savings per year?
The school district will reduce staff and save operating expenses associated with maintaining a school. There will be expenses for building upkeep, but the costs will be substantially lower than those for operating a facility. The greatest savings will be in personnel costs. School district officials estimate the savings to be at least $750,000 per year, and over a five year period the savings should be about $4 million.
7. What will happen to Haigh School if it closes?
The School Board will maintain Haigh School as an unoccupied building for the immediate future. Haigh is an important district asset. Its future use will be determined as time goes on, but there will be regular upkeep to maintain its value.
8. Is there any discussion about what else could happen on the Haigh property?
There are rumors that Haigh will be re-purposed. Nothing is ruled out, but the School Board is sensitive about the property, and will not turn control over to another entity. Further, there are no plans to sell the property. The Board can offer assurance that the exterior of the building will be well maintained.
9. What happens in 4-5 years if enrollment goes up dramatically?
While there is no evidence that enrollments will rise dramatically, if that’s the case we will have to consider reopening Haigh School. However, because the other elementary schools already have been renovated and have facility features not found in Haigh School, simultaneously, the School Board will have to request that voters consider renovating Haigh School.
10. How quickly can the school system respond to increased enrollment?
There would be evidence of enrollment increases over several years, and the School Board can consider its options over time. However, if it is evident that we need additional elementary school classroom space, a facility such as Haigh can be prepared for re-opening within several months.
11. What is the impact of doing nothing?
If we do nothing, we will continue to have unreasonably large class sizes in some schools while other schools’ class sizes will be unreasonably small. After the 2014-2015 school year, we will have available classrooms in some of our schools while others are used to capacity.
12. Will special spaces be taken away?
There were unique spaces identified in each elementary school’s renovation and expansion project. Prior to 2011, several of our schools used hallways and stairwells as instruction spaces, and some of our classrooms were deficient for the intended purposes. Further, all our music and art teachers routinely moved from classroom to classroom with their supplies and instructional materials to deliver the performing arts program. Now, five of our schools have one designated art/music room. Each school has small group instruction spaces for literacy and Title I support, and each school has space for specialists such as educational test examiners; occupational therapists; speech therapists; and counselors to conduct their work. We will not compromise these spaces and re-purpose them for alternate uses. Also, we will not revert to providing educational services in substandard or inadequate spaces.
13. What are the anticipated class sizes with a re-alignment plan?
The School Board has established a desired threshold of eighteen (18) students in K-3 classrooms and a threshold of twenty-five (25) students in grades 4-5 classrooms. Every effort will be made to keep enrollment figures within these parameters. The numbers are well within the school approval standards set by the New Hampshire Department of Education.
14. In a re-alignment and school reassignment plan, will I be able to keep my upper grade child in the current school?
If a decision is made to realign neighborhoods and reassign students, all students will be reassigned. This same process has been used before in the school district.
15. How reliable are your enrollment projections?
We feel confident about the numbers. In 2013, there were 1580 K-5 students. We had projected 1491 students for this fall, but we have 1543. Although higher than projected, we’re still below last year’s figure. Though the decreases may not be as great going forward, we project almost 200 fewer K-5 students by 2018.
16. Is it being too hasty to consider closing Haigh School? Should you wait until you have more information?
If a decision is made to close Haigh School it will only be after a great deal of thought and deliberation was given to the facts at hand, and committee members have given deep consideration to a great deal of space and enrollment data. A decision to close Haigh will be the result of information that shows we can do so without risking large class sizes or compromising the use of special spaces.
17. Why can’t you decide in March or April when you have real registration numbers?
The School Board set a goal to examine the current enrollments and to determine whether or not we can operate more efficiently. If the enrollments indicate that closing a school is a better option, we need to plan an operating budget accordingly and move on with our plans. March or April will be much too late for budget planning purposes.
18. If Haigh remains open, will the school district re-align students to reduce class sizes?
At a renovated Fisk School, there is a potential for two or three additional classrooms. Rooms are re-purposed right now, but these spaces can easily revert to classrooms. We can free up space in one or two elementary schools by increasing enrollments at Fisk. Therefore, regardless of the Haigh decision, it’s very likely that some students will be reassigned.