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Another View -- Leslie Want: Empty classrooms don't teach children

May 17. 2017 9:44PM

When it comes to redistricting in our school district, there are no easy answers. But let’s set the record straight. Redistricting is not an immediate cost savings.

We can move boundaries or shift grade configurations all we want, but until we, as a city, commit resources to the goal of reducing overcrowded classrooms, we will fail because empty classrooms don’t teach children!

As a district, we are making progress. The new feeder program, easing the transitions from elementary to middle to high school, will improve coordination of programs and collaboration between schools to help children make seamless transitions.

And we know we have current challenges to address and need further change.

Schools such as Northwest and Beech Street need relief from overcrowded classrooms. But before we begin moving children like inventory on a factory floor, we need the data to assure the best outcomes for our kids.

The school board has given Superintendent Dr. Bolgen Vargas the green light to contract an objective third-party vendor to do a complete facilities audit of the Manchester School District, which will review building capacities and conditions, enrollment and demographic trends, and special programmatic needs, so we can appropriately “right size” our district’s buildings and resources.

The last such audit was done 20 years ago. With so many entrenched interests, a fresh point of view from experts will help us determine how our resources can best serve the diverse needs of our children.

Sure, we can move boundaries or shift grade configurations to create open classrooms and lower class sizes and that could be part of the solution to solve our problems.

But let’s be real about the cost. Every open classroom we create to reduce class size requires that we hire a teacher to work with those students.

With the price of hiring a new teacher at about $50,000 per year, opening up as few as 20 new classrooms could only be achieved at an additional expenditure of approximately $1 million per year. Given the $5 million shortfall we are currently dealing with, we are facing eliminating 42 teaching positions this coming year alone to meet the mayor’s tax cap budget.

It just doesn’t add up because empty classrooms don’t teach children.

Redistricting by itself will not accomplish anything unless we define our goals first, like reducing class size in the elementary schools, and then back up a redistricting plan with the resources needed to fulfill that vision.

I believe that we can make great strides in providing an excellent education to all children of Manchester if we decide, as a community, that it is time to invest in our city by funding education appropriately. We will all win by making this choice.

Leslie Want represents Ward 4 on the Manchester Board of School Committee.

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