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Friday, September 4, 2015

Capital project question

Question: I am curious as to why there is an upcoming vote to approve a capital project to have the entire elementary school at the Perth site when just a few years ago I was on an exploratory committee dedicated to this topic and the results were that it was not cost effective, that it would require too much work to make the transition and that it was not in the best interest of our school community to make the switch? Was there information published that I missed, supporting the switch?

In 2012, when our community advisory committee was looking at options for a capital project, committee members were very interested in the idea of reorganizing our schools to put all elementary students at the Perth site and all secondary students at the Broadalbin site. However, the cost estimate provided by the district’s architectural firm at the time scared many committee members away from the idea. Since then, we have learned that the cost estimate we received in 2012 was inaccurate and not representative of the work that would actually need to take place. Unfortunately, because we were pressed for time in planning for the capital project that voters approved in February 2013, we chose to just take the most conservative approach possible to that project.
Over the past three years, we have continued to research the pros and cons to reorganizing our buildings. We have watched as other school districts have made similar moves, and we have polled district residents and staff — the majority of whom support the idea of one elementary and one secondary site.

From a program perspective, our research has shown that this is absolutely the right thing to do for our students. Right now, our students experience three transitions — TLC to the intermediate school; intermediate school to middle school; and middle school to high school. Creating one elementary building and one secondary building will reduce the number of transitions for our students to one. Education research has shown that, with fewer transitions, students tend to have more academic success, on average.

In addition, we recognize that the most effective and efficient way for us to educate our students is to group faculty with similar certifications together — in other words, elementary and secondary certifications. (Click here to see how the State Education Department categorizes teaching certificates by grade level.) By grouping teachers with like certifications together in the same buildings, we will increase opportunities for collaboration and also increase our flexibility in how we’re able to offer new and expanded programs — without incurring significant additional staffing costs.

Finally, having all elementary students under one roof will put our district in a better position to qualify for opportunities available only to schools with high free and reduced-price lunch numbers. Over the years, we have always had a greater percentage of elementary students qualifying for free or reduced-price school meals than secondary students. Currently, Broadalbin-Perth is considered “near eligible” for a federal program that would allow the district to provide free school breakfast and lunch for all students. By grouping elementary students together — and strongly encouraging parents to complete the free and reduced-price school meals application — we believe we can reach the eligibility threshold to be able to provide this service for our elementary students. In addition, many federal, state and corporate grants are available only for school districts that meet minimum free and reduced-price lunch participation numbers, so grouping elementary students together could make the school eligible for grant opportunities not currently available to the district.

- answered by Stephen Tomlinson, superintendent of schools

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