Student busing plan off the table for New Lebanon

New Lebanon School parents are breathing a sigh of relief after the district said it is no longer considering a plan to bus fifth grade students to Western Middle School.

New Lebanon is facing an overcrowding problem for the 2013-14 school year, and current projections from the school district show a two-classroom overflow of students for whom there won’t be room in September. Several options are being considered by the district, but parents were quick to oppose a plan that would have bused the fifth graders, saying their children weren’t ready for a middle school atmosphere and it would have damaged the school community. Superintendent of Schools William McKersie attended a meeting with the PTA and parents earlier this month where the opposition was presented unanimously.

Now Dr. McKersie has listened and has outlined options that can be accomplished within the school. In an email sent to New Lebanon School Principal Barbara Riccio and PTA President Michael Bocchino and shared with the Post, he says the busing option has been taken off the table.

In the email, Dr. McKersie tells Ms. Riccio and Mr. Bocchino that he “listened closely” to their input as well as to the parents and community leaders.

“It is clear that we should remove the Western Middle School fifth grade option as a possible solution,” Dr. McKersie wrote. “So, to be clear, I am taking off the list the idea of having the New Lebanon fifth grade at Western Middle School next year. We now will focus on ‘within New Lebanon’ solutions — ideas that will keep students at New Lebanon next year.”

Dr. McKersie is scheduled to meet with parents again on May 22 and said he was hopeful that a solution could be reached then. He has insisted that the busing option was never “favored” by the district and that it was merely one of several options being considered along with utilizing the swing space in the cafeteria and media room, having modular classrooms on site and leasing space from the nearby church.

Dr. McKersie could not be reached for additional comment before the deadline for this week’s edition of the Post.

There is no indication what might be a favored option now from the district’s perspective, but the timetable is moving quickly since any solution would have to be in place for the beginning of the 2013-14 school year in September and any option taken is likely to need budget approval first.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Bocchino said parents were very pleased with the district’s decision not to move the fifth graders.

“They were surprised to hear this and very, very happy,” Mr. Bocchino told the Post on Monday. “They are very happy that it looks like the town of Greenwich finally has a superintendent willing to work with parents and make sure their concerns are being heard.”

The announcement followed a May 8 meeting with New Lebanon parents where the options were discussed. Mr. Bocchino said that about 100 parents attended the meeting and broke out into work groups to evaluate the options and make suggestions. However, because that meeting took place while busing was still being discussed, Mr. Bocchino said it essentially dominated the night and now this has changed the mind-set for parents.

“It’s difficult to say where they stand right now because this is off the table and that’s a big relief to them,” Mr. Bocchino said.

One thing parents did say they wanted, though, was an evaluation of the school population to make sure that the students at New Lebanon all had proper Greenwich addresses. This verification audit of all grade levels, they said, could potentially change the need for a major response if it is determined that a number of kids are coming from outside the district illegally to the school. There have been past complaints from parents about seeing New York cars dropping off kids at the school, but the district has said those complaints have been addressed. A stricter residency requirement was withdrawn last fall after concerns it discriminated against people renting properties.

Some favored options did emerge from last week’s discussion. The idea of having modular classrooms brought in to house classes for subjects like art, music, the Advanced Learning Program, and English as a Second Language was a popular one, but Mr. Bocchino acknowledged that there are concerns it would cost too much for the district to get approval for it. Another solution could be the use of a trailer on school property, which Mr. Bocchino said would be far less expensive. A temporary hallway could be built to shield against the weather and students could use it to accommodate the need for more classroom space.

Mr. Bocchino said that notes and ideas from last week’s discussion will be sent to Dr. McKersie before the May 22 meeting so that he can give the district’s perspective then.

“We don’t want any miscommunication or have any of the issues misunderstood,” Mr. Bocchino said. “We want to make sure he’s aware of what we’re looking for and that we can have a fruitful and productive discussion. We don’t just want to throw ideas out at him. He’s shown a real commitment towards working with us on this, and we want to work with him to make sure he’s prepared for the meeting.”

 

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