Changing schools for the 21st century

The constant battles and halfway measures that represent most current merger efforts in New York are wasteful, both in money and time, and generally unsuccessful.

Every time the battle begins, when the smoke clears, little or nothing has changed, and the constant bartering and compromise results in less than satisfactory resolutions. Even Chautauqua Lake could have and should have been more, at the very least incorporating Westfield, Brocton, Ripley and Sherman. And through it all modern capabilities are ignored.

Taking a Board of Cooperative Educational Services concept as a center, and obviously a much different BOCES, remote locations under one district could be applied in many cases, staving off for years the issue of buildings and community identity that seem to be at the bottom of much of the disagreements and reluctance to merge schools.

BOCES as it exists would end, of course, mainly because its funding mechanisms’ would end. BOCES would be the center of a countywide district, providing all of the vocational training and a new county school superintendent. Special education could be housed in one school somewhere in the district. What BOCES calls “alternative education” could be housed in much the same way, the separate buildings being much less problematic than the current situation.

BOCES extra space could be for expanded vocational training, the best way to a decent life for many students than college will ever be. Vocational programs should be hitched to some sort of connection with area trades unions, contractors and such, perhaps even offering paid summer internships. Health-care curriculums should be expanded at greater levels, and again, partnered with area hospitals and other caregivers. It certainly can’t hurt when a young graduate enters the job market to have had positive previous interactions with potential employers., not to mention exposure to a job before they actually commit to a life’s work in that field.

Using technology, many courses could be offered through remote feeds to local buildings, eliminating the need for fully staffing each and every school. I’d think more courses could be offered as well, including interesting and perhaps life changing electives, life changing due to exposure to a wider world. Consolidations would be smaller with much less transportation involved, and once again settling at least part of the resistance to mergers. Obviously, some merging of certain programs would occur. In the long haul, I’m sure buildings would have to close or modified to fit new uses, but again, at least in the short run that wouldn’t be the defining issue.

Cost savings would still be significant with a cut in jobs at the administrative level, and some teaching and support staff. Other than the administrative staff, much of the cuts could come through attrition, easing more of the pain currently in the mix of any merger discussions. Please don’t treat people worried about their jobs in a callous or negative manner. Nobody wants to lose their job, and anyone would fight to keep it.

For all the uses of computers in modern day schools, I don’t see anyone using them to their best advantages relative to remote classrooms, consolidation of class offerings, increasing exposure to educational avenues not available in most schools and even to save money and time on transportation.

Think about it, perhaps two teacher assistants in a classroom, with one teacher on a screen from a remote location and a methodology to ask questions. All of this is possible without the losses of offerings and quality of the education received that are generally part of any discussion on whether to merge schools or not. And again, if we lose teaching positions by attrition, which should be possible, we aren’t placing anyone’s current lifestyle in jeopardy.

Why is this important? It’s important because it might lead to more cooperation and a lot less arguing between the affected parties – teachers, parents and taxpayers.

The main point is a need to think of issues other than consolidating and maintaining an entire system based on the same failing model present throughout the county, just to save money.

Technology should lead to cheaper and more efficient staffing, allowing more of the available money to be used for an expansion of course offerings. The elimination of much of the administrative staff, which should occur, will also help. I’m not sure how much, if any, taxes will decrease, but if it remains static or slows the steady increases to a crawl while giving our children and grandchildren an innovative and modern education with all the “bells and whistles” afforded students in wealthier districts, wouldn’t that alone be worth the effort?

The “Elephant in the room” of course, are the ridiculous mandates from the federal and state government – unfunded in large part. Any reasonable and in depth investigation of expenditures will tell any interested party that until that issue is somehow resolved, we’re only putting off the inevitable. We do have to start somewhere though, and what I’ve tried to do here is to suggest a different approach than previous mergers.

Who knows? Someone might actually give it a try. It beats the heck out of sitting on the sidelines complaining while doing nothing about it.

Paul Christopher is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com