Editorial: Douglas County School District should reconsider consolidation
Nothing ignites the passion of parents as much as their children’s safety. That passion’s flaring up anew.
Many Douglas County School District parents are incensed over a decision by the district’s board to close Kingsbury Middle School in June 2008.
Declining enrollment at Zephyr Cove Elementary School (ZCES), Kingsbury Middle School (KMS) and George Whittell High School (GWHS) has forced the board to consolidate schools. Discussion of the matter began in 2005 and ended in June 2006, when the board voted unanimously to close Kingsbury and shift students to space at the remaining two schools.
Last year, the three schools accommodated 558 students; this year, enrollment is 510.
Parent Greg Felton is spearheading an effort by DCSD parents to reopen discussion about which school to close. He contends a survey of district parents by the Parents Club and Booster Club found that 95 percent wanted ZCES closed rather than KMS.
So far, the district isn’t budging.
Felton, et al., claim ZCES has “many more risks than KMS (including radon, traffic, water, exposure to the public …)” He also mentions ADA access requirements and potential problems, such as asbestos, which could be associated with the elementary school’s age.
“We must minimize the risks to which we expose our children for ethical as well as legal reasons,” Felton writes in a letter to DCSD school board members. “And if we hope to stem declining enrollment, we must eliminate the loss of children due to basic safety concerns.”
A primary issue reinvigorating the consolidation debate came after Nov. 3 tests by Fallon Heating and Air Conditioning found five rooms at ZCES were above the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended level of radon contamination.
The tests were taken after air filters were installed to lower radon levels.
Parents also say they weren’t consulted in the final board decision, that KMS has newer and nicer facilities (ZCES was built in 1962, KMS in 1976), and that according to an analysis by the district’s Business Services Department, KMS requires an estimated $460,000 in improvements while ZCES needs about $1 million in improvements.
So why is the school board digging in its heels?
Nothing has significantly changed since its initial decision, members say. They contend that though radon levels still are above acceptable EPA standards, the levels are dropping and currently are in a safe range.
They also say that because of the close proximity between ZCES and GWHS (approximately .03 mile), the choice is more cost-effective and will allow schools to share staff.
District officials estimate the schools could share a nurse, psychologist, speech therapist, special education, art, music and physical education teachers and others.
Some teachers also claim the difficulty sharing teachers is greatly magnified the further schools are apart. KMS is approximately four miles from the high school. The commute, teachers contend, forces them to quickly pack up materials, finish lessons and arrive at the other school on time. Unforeseen circumstances can easily derail the process and potentially leave students in the lurch.
The animosity between parents and district only gained steam after a Monday night school forum at GWHS organized by parents’ groups and attended by DCSD Superintendent Carol Lark and several board members.
Felton claimed district representatives failed to specifically answer questions, such as cost differences for sharing staff at the three schools.
So the accusations continue to fly. Let’s settle the issue for good.
The Douglas County School District Board of Trustees should convene a public hearing and allow time to hear out anyone who wants to speak. Then it should take what it’s heard, consider the opinions and vote again.
The final vote should stand.