Padalino’s plan was a bitter pill for some to swallow, with the recommended closure of three more elementary schools and the inclusion of fifth-grade into the middle schools causing the most alarm. Also coming under fire was a perceived lack of inclusion in the plan’s design phase, something which Padalino said he was open to, though it likely meant a decision wouldn’t be made until later than what was initially hoped.
“One of the goals of the board was on the first day of school, 2012-13, students and parents would know where they were going in 2013-14,” Padalino said. “An extension of the deadline would not meet that goal.”
Padalino’s plan was developed with the input of six elementary school principals and other school officials, but did not include other district employees. Members of the Kingston Teachers Federation have been outspoken in their criticism of the method, asking for more input from parents as well.
“This is not about politics,” Padalino said. “This is not about personalities. This is about the future of our school district and this is about our students’ future. Some would say that there were flaws in this process, and I agree. But at the end of the day I stand behind the work that I’ve done and the proposal that I’ve made. It’s important to understand that whatever the final decision is here, there will be unhappy people. Can we take more time? Yes. But ultimately we have to face this new reality.”
During last week’s forum, Padalino attempted to break down the anticipated annual savings to the district under the current iteration of the proposal. This would include an savings of $3 million with the elimination of 30 elementary teaching positions; $200,000 for the elimination of four teaching assistants; $450,000 with the elimination of three elementary principals; $360,000 with the elimination of 12 cafeteria workers and lunch monitors; and $150,000 with the elimination of three clerical positions. A further $600,000 would be saved in general operational costs, he said.
The total savings over five years, Padalino said, would be around $23.8 million, a figure nearly doubling to $46 million with the removal of maintenance costs at the three schools proposed for closure.
Padalino also heard from critics of his support for a 5-8 middle school model, as many feel as though fifth-graders are simply too young to be integrated into an educational climate with much older children. Kathy Hernandez, president of the John F. Kennedy Elementary Parent-Teacher Association, cited a Columbia Business School study which claimed that fifth-graders moved into middle school have seen dramatic drops in achievement which lasted through eighth grade when compared to peers who saw their fifth-grade class remain in elementary school.
Padalino’s support for a grades 5-8 middle school model is also favored by the New York Board of Regents, he said, and he touted the additional educational and extracurricular activity opportunities a middle school could provide as compelling reasons to make the change.
Trustee Maureen Bowers said she believed the public needed more details about the plan before being able to offer its support.
“We have contention in our community about what the right decision should be, and I think it would be valuable to our community to know that if something is not on the table, this is why and if something is on the table this is why,” she said, adding that parental concern for the emotional, physical and educational well-being of their fifth-graders had to be addressed much more significantly. “I really need to know that from the time they get on the bus to the time they get off the bus, there really is going to be the ability to segregate them to the greatest extent possible from other students.”
Padalino said that some of those answers were still coming into focus.
“We’re not necessarily looking at segregating the fifth grade,” he said. “We don’t want inappropriate situations with eighth-graders. We want to make sure that they do have access to the advantages of a middle school. Our feeling isn’t to pick up a fifth-grade class and stick it in a middle school … and just be the same thing it was in fifth grade in the elementary school they were at. Separate lunches makes sense, separate gym classes absolutely. Buses we’re still looking at, separate entrances and their own wing, yes.”
Asked by the board whether school officials had learned anything from the closure of Meagher it could apply to the potential closure of three more schools, Padalino said they’d learned quite a lot. When students formerly in the Meagher attendance zone go to school this September, they’ll do so at John F. Kennedy Elementary, the large school absorbing the entire population in an effort to keep them together. Padalino applied the same logic to the proposed closure of the other elementary schools by the end of the 2012-13 school year, with students at Anna Devine moving on to Robert Graves; students at Zena going to Edward R. Crosby; and students at Sophie Finn going to Harry L. Edson. Padalino said it was crucial to not only address what it does to the kids who are moving, but also on those in the schools taking them in.