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Renting or repurposing

City schools eye building options for savings

OBSERVER Photo by Jo Ward Members of the Dunkirk City School Board are reviewing options regarding the potential for consolidation. Pictured is School No. 3 in Dunkirk.

A shifting of students to different buildings is part of some consolidation considerations for the future by the Dunkirk City School District.

Board members are looking at options for financial stability in the coming years, knowing a major deficit looms in 2023. By putting together an efficiency and effectiveness committee composed of school board members, faculty, administration and community members the district is weighing ideas being put forth from all points of view in hopes of achieving the best outcomes.

“We’re spending more than we make,” Superintendent Mike Mansfield said at a workshop for the Dunkirk Board of Education on Tuesday. “A lot has gone into that including the (payment in lieu of taxes) which is shrinking from the NRG plant (closing) and a flat state aid revenue for the last several years. The board is not looking to cut staff, but we have to do better for our students.”

One option is to reduce the district’s footprint by one elementary building in hopes of generating revenue by renting or repurposing it. That would keep grade levels from kindergarten to three to allow room in the remaining elementary buildings. Grades four and five would head to the middle school with grade six. Grades seven with eight would be moving to the high school, joining the upperclassmen.

Another option highlighted was moving fifth grade to what is now the middle school and eighth to the high school and doing looping, which is where students stay with the same teacher. “Part of the reason that works so effectively is you’ve already established all your classroom routines when you come back in September so you hit the ground running,” Mansfield said.

“A lot of that pre work for the first hundred days is done.”

Additionally, there was a plan to reduce by one elementary building where there could be savings and possibly revenue with rent, bring the pre-K into the buildings and have pre-K to second in the remaining elementary buildings and then three through six at the middle school. Grades seven and eight would move to the high school making it a joined junior-senior high. If that option is floated, Mansfield said, the district would section the building so there wasn’t a lot of mixing of the younger and older students.

“We want to improve our effectiveness, student outcomes and programming while also improving our efficiency, so we want excellent student programming in a fiscally sustainable and responsible manner, to maximize our resources,” Mansfield added.

The committee began meeting last week and hashed out items the district is already doing well and others that could use improvement. Pathways was a big point of discussion by Mansfield. He cited the track of interests that students might take from seventh grade on and how that could grow that into a career option.

“We have space in the high school based on enrollments from the ’70s and currently and we have added on to the building in that time,” Mansfield said. “Are there things that we can do with the students to better utilize our space?”

Other things the district is doing well included having and maintaining a number of facilities, offering different options as far as remote and in-person learning goes, teachers and staff going above and beyond for students, continuation of services such as P-TECH and social workers in every building.

Areas that could use improvement, according to the committee, included opportunities for advanced students in elementary school, follow the strategic plan the district already has in place, operate as a cohesive unit, fiscal management, how to prepare students for life, technology issues, helping parents learn the technology the school is utilizing in hopes they can help their kids at home, student enthusiasm, attendance and meeting social and emotional needs.

Parental involvement was a key issue and the district would like to work more on that as well. At the meeting more ideas were shared including the possibility of reorganizing AP classes.

“I know that we offer a lot of those AP classes, but I don’t think it’s effective and efficient if there’s only two or three kids in the classes,” board member Bob Bankoski stated. “Offer some classes, but not overdo it so there’s not a lot of participation.”

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