A Small School Closes


A Small School Closes

– John Leahy

A small school in a small town will close its doors permanently this summer due to budget cuts and the children of the town will be bussed over ten miles to a neighboring town. Gone, the cozy, familiar, small-scale setting for the communities youngest members. Gone, the local venue for community extra-curricular social activities such as the girl scouts. Gone, one of the amenities that made this small town an attractive place to call home. The negative impacts of this decision go rippling through various layers of the local quality of life, many of whom are not at all related directly to education.

New York State Education Department (NYSED) has aggressively pushed a policy of consolidation under the theory that fewer and larger centralized units are more economically efficient than more numerous and smaller widely disbursed ones. The budget planning looks at elimination of duplication of services as its bottom line and does not factor in many intangibles in its unimaginative perspective. The School Board of this particular district vigorously pursued its chosen intention and pushed for five years towards its goal. Rather than using data to determine a preferred policy course, this school board made its policy decision first and then looked for data to be presented as support for its determination. Debate was quashed or avoided. Alternatives were discounted or ignored. Good old boy networking tactics were employed to keep the entrenched board members in power. NYSED supported the local board in an official hands-off (especially if we’re winning) policy.

With a policy highly dependent upon demographic projections, consolidation proponents appear to ignore the implications to a local economy of removing local amenities. Young families like to set up homes in areas near preferable school options and removing the local school will curtail some desirability to move to and settle in the town. Other families with school aged children might move to another school district altogether where the educational opportunities are superior. This will have a negative effect on property values and this effect could be significant.

So beginning next fall, 5 through 8 year olds of this small town will now stoically go off every day on an hour long school bus ride in place of the current 5 or 10 minute ride to school. They will be placed in inferior accommodations while their previous cozy home stands in good condition. Nostalgic students will be able to wave good bye to their old school as they ride past at the beginning of their journeys to the neighboring town.

Will life go on in this small town? Will the students be better off than their peers in poor and possibly war-ravaged villages in the eastern Congo or Afghanistan or even parts of Brooklyn? Yes without a doubt. But more to the point, did life get better or worse in the small town and was the right decision made on how to address the budget problems challenging the school district? Without a doubt, life got at least a little bit worse and the question remains, was it necessary?

Categories : Education Policy