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Letter to the Editor: School Consolidation's Financial and Logistical Uncertainties

A Response to Howard Jubrey's op-ed in the Windsor Journal, "My Vote on the Re-organization of the Elementary Schools," April 8, 2011.

Dear Editor:

Mr. Jubrey writes in his op-ed in the Windsor Journal that the school board vote was not a "foregone conclusion."  I disagree.

All-day kindergarden is a concept of addition to the Windsor school district offerings going back at least three years.

Consolidation of the elementary schools, though a relatively recent initiative, also reflects the desires of the majority members of the school board over the past two years. I contend that the members of the board of education, after hiring the school-consolidation specialists from Drummey Rosane Anderson (DRA) of South Windsor and the geographic-statistical analysis firm of Cropper GIS Consulting, had already decided to go forward with their agenda, regardless of the input offered by Windsor parents who object to this plan. It is incumbent upon members of the Board of Education to prove no predisposition to pass the current budget and plan.

DRA has a substantial financial interest in seeing school consolidation passed by this board. The school board hired an interim superintendent who oversaw similar consolidation of Newington schools. Prior to the final, unanimous vote to pass the proposed school district budget, one of our school board members made the statement at a recent public meeting that, "We don't care what the parents think," in response to questioning from the audience.

Many Windsor parents support the concept of all-day kindergarden; many do not. However, an overwhelming majority of parents and other knowledgeable citizens reject the wisdom of school consolidation at this time. Many citizens were unable to attend the several public forums conducted by the school board. Mr. Jubrey accurately reports that few people who attended were afforded the opportunity to fully express their opinions due to board rules limiting commentary time. 
There are many townspeople who reviewed the proceedings on our local TV channel and also followed the deliberations by way of the meeting minutes. The school board provided no opportunity for anyone to present an in-depth, scholarly rebuttalto their plan.

The Board of Education senior members recently presented their proposed budget and school consolidation plan to our Town Council. Although no one from the public was given the opportunity to question and/or comment on the presentation, several members of the Town Council penetratingly inquired on major subjects. The responses to those questions from the four members of the school board were not specific. Most answers included the words "may", "might" and "we hope" to produce higher quality of education to our children. As respects financial matters, the "may" and "might" save money was the rule not the exception.

The proposed all-day kindergarden requires additional teachers to be hired. Class sizes will increase, thus diluting a teacher's ability to be responsive to our children's learning needs. Consolidation will cause wholesale disruption of continuity in relationships amongst children and parent-teacher groups. There are substantial costs not specified in the board's budget for consolidation start-up One slide in the presentation listed as "fact" that the proposed plan would save about $375,000 per year out of a budget projected to be greater than $65,000,000 - an amount of only half of 1% per year. 

At the bottom of that slide, there is a footnote in small print revealing that no projection of start-up costs is included in the budget document. This footnote refers to high start-up costs without any monetary forecast. Town Councilmen who asked, "…how much are the start-up costs," were not given any specifics or even a “guess" projection by the school board members.

Several members of the town council asked, "When the number of children in our school district has declined by 600, and student achievement results continue to decline year-to-year, how can the Board of Education request an increase of $1.5 million for the coming year?" The Town Council reports that the school budget will equal 50% of the tax increases to be put on the backs of our townspeople. The answers from the school board representatives amounted to a dance around a theory, the typically vague constructs of politicians.

In his first paragraph Mr. Jubrey details the egregious negatives contained in the proposed school budget. He reminds us that bussing will continue with increased travel times for the students. There will be more pupils in class with less teacher availability. The concept of "neighborhood schools" will be eliminated. There will be dramatic, disruptive repercussions for students transitioning within the district. 

Will the proposed elementary school consolidation remedy the state-documented failure of Windsor teachers and administrators to produce students who can meet on-grade-level performance metrics? No. 

Will the increase in class size improve the learning experience for our children? No. 

Will the plan from the school board result in all of the tribulations detailed by Mr. Jubrey? Yes. 

Will the budget proposed by the school board mandate a significant tax increase on residents? Yes.

Over the last twenty years Windsor became one of the most diverse and accepting towns in the state. Bussing children cross-district is no longer necessary to achieve state-mandated "racial balance" in our schools. A closer look at the study performed by Cropper GIS proves racially balanced, diverse neighborhoods in Windsor that conform to state "integration" guidelines. Is race-based balance the over-arching criteria, or instead should we use the better term, minority-inclusive classrooms? Less than 40% of our students are Caucasian.

I respect, support and actively endorse Mr. Jubrey's commitment to helping our Wilson-district children learn about the principled life-style of our African-American Founders. This is a worthwhile project. I believe it should be extended to inspire children in all our Windsor neighborhoods!

Respectfully submitted by L. Samuel Cashwell, Ph.D., Windsor, CT

Howard April 27, 2011 at 08:42 PM
The last paragraph is probably the only thing in this entire article that is factual. I am not sure how write an artical about me and what is in my head and what is in my heart. Sorry that you needed to make this a publc personal attack. Howard A. Jubrey, Jr
Brandon Jubrey April 28, 2011 at 02:50 AM
In response to Mr. Cashwell's letter, I have to say that as a working parent of 3 children (soon to be four) who are under the age of 4 years, my preference is to have an all-day kindergarten. I would also prefer to have an all-day pre-school if possible. Most of my friends who have kids feel the same way. Having your children in one setting for the day is FAR easier on a working parent (both logistically and financially) than having them in school for a half day and then in an after-care program for the remainder of the day. Mr Cashwell says that more teachers equals larger class sizes. That doesn't make sense. If we're increasing the number of teachers, I'd think we are decreasing the class sizes. Even if the student body increases, if the number of teachers is also increasing then you'd have the additional coverage. Also, hiring teachers is increasing jobs, and that seems like a good thing to me. I guess my only other comment would be that the people making the decisions are elected officials. Just as in any other level of government (local, state, federal) we elect officials to act on our behalves. If you don't like the decisions they are making, then vote a different way.
Skip Cashwell April 28, 2011 at 01:40 PM
A studious, comprehensive reading of my letter-to-the-editor belies your interpretation that a "personal attack" exists, or that the article is about you. Neither is the case. In the first paragraph of your column, published April 8, displayed on the front page of the Windsor Journal, you wrote, "Some of the concerns were length of travel on buses would be extended for some; classrooms would have more students; neighborhood schools would be eliminated; the number of transitions from school to school would be increased and a few more that were more personal than relating to all students. I am not going to use this time to restate the responses to those concerns because they were addressed the night the vote was made." The responses to concerns made during the pre-vote deliberations by the board to allay citizen objections & fears were a repetition of previously stated opinions by the board's Democrat majority. The public was not invited to respond to this discussion. Perhaps you may consider that another op-ed in the Windsor Journal is appropriate to reiterate the complete set of reasons chosen to answer concerns. You challenge the factuality of my article. I therefore ask you to provide any corrections where I am mistaken. Specific examples from you are appreciated to clarify for me, & other concerned citizens of Windsor, which will resolve any misperceptions. Sincerely respectful,
Skip Cashwell April 28, 2011 at 02:16 PM
All-day kindergarten is a very worthwhile & solidly effective choice! It is provable that providing the structured environment for learning is very effective for our youngest children: their minds are like sponges soaking up all offered! As we move to provide this learning environment, we will need to have teachers skilled in guiding kindergarten-age children to learn new skills. We will need to hire several teachers who are specialized in teaching the youngest pupils.! On the other hand should the proposed school consolidation be implemented, class sizes will increase beyond the current average in Windsor of 12.4 students per teacher (Source: CT State Board of Education, 2009-2010). No plan is in the school board's budget offering to increase the number of teachers for grades 1-5 . As noted by another person who wrote articles, the increase in class sizes may produce the "level learning" environment. This approach to teaching contributes to a reduction in teacher effectiveness & a reduced quality learning experience for our children. I fully support the creation of all-day kindergarten. On the other hand I totally reject the efficacy of the school consolidation plan from the current school board. It is a specious, expensive measure that cannot be proven to increase the quality or achievement of our elementary pupils. Segregating 3rd-5th graders from K-2nd graders removes the valuable experiences offered by older children as role models to the younger.
Kristin Ingram April 28, 2011 at 02:28 PM
In business, we study the deployment of resources. After looking at the current setup with four elementary school, each with classroom for each grade, it appears to me that we are not affectively deploying our resources. By consolidating the schools into two lower elementary and two higher elementary, we are able to better allocate our resources to the serve the students of Windsor. For example, imagine we have 200 first grade students in the district. We have four schools so you would think that if the ideal class size is 25 students, we would have 8 first grade classes. However, due to the population distribution, we might have 10 classes. Consolidating to two schools allows better allocation of those teaching resources. The consolidation also allows a decrease in administrative and overhead costs. You need less administrators for four schools than five. You need less support staff. It is my hope that the cost savings are actually higher than originally estimated. Once the consolidation is complete, I hope that the Board of Ed will look at the new distribution to see if there are additional savings that can be reached. After doing my own research and discussing the consolidation with members of the Board of Education, I believe this is a solid plan that will better serve the students of Windsor. It will allow us to better pool our resources, allow more collaboration between teachers, and achieve some of the cost savings that many of us have been seeking for years.

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