2/27/2018 10:39:00 AM 'Too much uncertainty' on consolidation
When school was not in session due to the snowy, cold weather, going into town seemed too quiet. Without the schools, Palestine is not the same. If there is consolidation, the likelihood of having no attendance center increases greatly. If or when that happens, Palestine will be too quiet and there will be a loss of business, with some concerns likely going out of business.
School board members have, since 2006, taken an oath. Included in that oath is: members shall respect the taxpayer interests and serve as a protector of the school district's assets. Therefore, board members need to consider costs and the interest of the community. It is obvious that, while not addressed directly, the education and welfare of students is a board member's duty too. If the only consideration for a board member was what can be done for students, then cost would be no object. However, that is not the case, so boards must consider economics and efficient use of staff and buildings.
The only savings considered is to have fewer administrators in the consolidated district. It has been stated that no certified and no non-certified staff will be let go. There would be staff leaving by retirement and not replaced in the next few years. So, any further savings would be in the future as staff members depart by attrition.
One attribute of consolidation is touted as more course offerings. This would happen, because no certified staff would be let go. The number of increased offerings could be as high as 36, but with the number of students, not all of those courses would be offered and with staff departing, by attrition, and not being replaced the number of additional courses would become fewer. To keep all the teachers now when they are apparently not needed is not good use of taxpayer money and an inefficient way of operating a school.
Concerning the education of students: more courses can sometimes be good. However, a good education in high school does not always include "upper" level courses such as calculus I, II, and III, Chemistry I, II, and III, or even Advanced Placement (AP) courses. As long as a student has a good basic education and can learn, they should be successful in college or in other beyond high school education or training. A good, basic education will serve students very well. When additional courses are affordable, and staff is available, it is nice to be able to offer them. Palestine students have consistently scored high on the state tests, in fact, higher than the rest of the county schools. They are receiving a good education and it was stated at the town hall meeting that Hutsonville students are also receiving a good education. Credit for that must go to the teachers, students, and parents in each district. Realize that this has been done without the additional courses that might be made available from the other school; Palestine or Hutsonville.
It has been stated in some "consolidation" meetings that the present high school building in Palestine would definitely be closed. The board is presently working to bring that building into a better condition, so keeping it open should be an option even if consolidation is approved. An empty building would soon deteriorate and be an eyesore on Main Street. This relates to the oath referred to in the previous paragraph regarding protecting district property. Yes, there is repair work to do on the buildings in Palestine. The cost of that work has been presented at the most recent town hall meeting of the Committee of Ten and those costs are not as high as they were thought to be in August.
With consolidation, the education tax rate would be raised to $2.60 per $100 of evaluation as compared to the present $2.44 per $100 of evaluation. That means a raise in the amount of taxes that Palestine voters would pay. Palestine has overcome a large deficit and is now operating in the black. With careful spending, the district can remain that way, at least for now, without an increase in taxes. Costs should be considered when deciding how to vote.
As I wrote in a previous letter to the editor, there are many ways in which two or more districts may join. Consolidation seems to me to be the wrong decision for Palestine, no matter who it is with. A cooperative high school was mentioned, at the meeting, as not being a good option. That is not the only option beyond consolidation. Remember, there are at least 11 ways to consider. Some would not be palatable to anyone, but some should be considered and studied. With consolidation, it would likely be only a matter of time until one or both attendance centers in Palestine would be closed to save money or be more efficient.
I do believe the Committee of Ten has worked hard, but just working hard does not mean the decisions made are the best for the communities. Having served on a previous Committee of Ten, I know that a lot of time is volunteered, but again, that does not mean the decisions made are the best. If Palestine is to join with anyone, I believe Hutsonville is the correct choice, but, again, I believe consolidation is the wrong option.
In my opinion, there is too much uncertainty about how economically and efficiently the consolidated district would operate. As earlier stated, presently, Palestine is doing well. The district is in the black and students are getting a good education.
Many responsibilities are to be considered by board members as they oversee the operation of schools. Course offerings, extra-curricular choices, buildings, staff, and costs must be considered by board members. Voters need to consider them too as they decide the immediate future of the students, parents, and taxpayers of the district.