Column - District to be commendedAlexandria School District 206 has a big order to fill. It needs to come up with ways to deal with budget shortfalls while continuing its offering of top-notch academic programs, maintaining quality facilities and buses, offering a variety of extra curricular programs, and so on.
By: Tara Bitzan, Alexandria Echo Press
Alexandria School District 206 has a big order to fill. It needs to come up with ways to deal with budget shortfalls while continuing its offering of top-notch academic programs, maintaining quality facilities and buses, offering a variety of extra curricular programs, and so on.
And if that isn’t a tall order, their decisions must be in the best interest of all district residents, students, parents and staff members without raising taxes.
OK, I think we can all agree that is impossible. But, from what I’ve seen, I think District 206 is doing a tremendous job trying to forge ahead with improvements and advancements while still dealing with budget shortfalls and local residents’ concerns. With every issue that has come along, the district administration and board members have put a lot of time and thought into making the right decisions.
The same is happening now, with a newly proposed school boundary plan. The district’s goal is to create neighborhood attendance areas, increase academic time, shorten bus ride times due to transfer buses and reduce costs.
For nearly a year, a specially formed study group has spent considerable time reviewing the district’s current and projected enrollment as well as school capacities, utilizations and programming needs in an effort to come up with a plan that will best serve the entire district.
The new elementary attendance boundary plan would eliminate six transfer buses, saving the district about $45,000 per year. It would also add 15 minutes of instructional time per day, which equates to about 50 days over the school career of a K-6th grade student. The plan also proposes changing Lincoln Elementary to a one-tier system with Discovery Middle School and Jefferson High School. This would save an additional $50,000 per year in busing.
That plan was recently shared with the public through letters, public meetings and the local media.
As with any change, there are some unhappy people. Numerous postings have been made at Echo Press online in response to this. What parents seem most concerned about is the requirement of students to attend schools nearest their place of residence. The district receives funding from the state to transport students from their homes to school and back again. However, in District 206, many students are bused to and from daycare – with the use of transfer buses – because parents choose to have their child attend a school closest to daycare, not home.
Parents don’t want this service to end.
Now let’s take a look back to November 2004, when voters were given the opportunity to vote on an operating levy referendum to help alleviate district budget challenges.
Only one of four referendum questions (maintaining class sizes) passed. The three that failed centered around technology, student activities, and – transportation! Combined, the three questions that failed would have cost taxpayers with $125,000 homes an extra 13 cents a day.
Here we are, four years later, wondering why significant cuts must be made to transportation. By law, the district does not have to offer transfer bus service, nor does it have to allow students to attend schools not in their “neighborhood.” But it has. In fact, the district has gone above and beyond by working with parents to grant their special requests.
But that flexibility relies on the transfer bus service. This service was in the hands of voters four years ago, and it failed. So now the cuts are happening. Articles published prior to that referendum clearly stated that if the levy was not approved, the district would either have to cut the transfer bus service, or parents would have to pay a fee for the service. As the district’s budget tightens, changes must be made.
I commend the district for all the thought and time that has gone into examining all the possibilities and trying to come up with solutions that are in the best interest of the students. I commend the district for listening to parents’ concerns about daycare issues, lengthy bus ride times, etc. I believe they truly are listening.
One thing is for certain – there is no way they will please everyone. Every family has different needs and wants. The district needs to focus on what is best overall, and continue to provide a high quality educational system for our area. That obviously takes priority over making sure children get to the family’s chosen daycare.
One comment posted to Echo Press online stated that District 206 “has an agenda and oftentimes it’s the kids who suffer.” From what I’ve seen, the district’s “agenda” is to fulfill its mission statement to “achieve educational excellence and to inspire a life-long passion for learning.”
As parents, residents and concerned citizens, we need to understand the district’s plight, and we need to be supportive. Share your thoughts and ideas now, when the district is asking for that feedback. Only 20 people attended Monday’s school board meeting, and about 100 attended the other meetings held throughout the district. That’s a low turnout for a district this size. My hope is that the people sharing their unhappiness “behind the scenes” via Web site postings or on-the-street talk also attended those meetings to share their concerns directly with the district.
Otherwise, the district has every right to move forward with what appears to be a well-thought-out, fiscally responsible plan.
“It’s Our Turn” is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.