'We all want to do what's best for students'
By Steven Hoffman
At the latest in a series of ongoing facilities planning meetings, Avon Grove School Board member Rick Dumont said, “We all want to do what's best for students.”
Let's accept that statement as true.
The nine members of the Avon Grove School Board, like school board members across Pennsylvania, volunteer their time and talents to serve the community. It's an often thankless job, and the decisions that they are asked to make can be difficult. Would you want to be responsible for raising your neighbor's taxes? Avon Grove is currently in the midst of a process to make a decision about how to address the district's long-term facilities needs. The district's two secondary schools are aging and overcrowded. There are more than two dozen portable classrooms currently being used across the school district. How the current school board decides to address the situation could have a big impact on the community for many years to come.
Although none of the nine Avon Grove School Board members made this exact statement during the March 8 facilities planning meeting, let's also assume that all nine of the individuals want to do what's best for taxpayers, too. A recurring theme throughout the evening, and throughout the facilities planning process, has certainly been that there is significant concern about the financial impact that any facilities project would have on Avon Grove residents.
So everybody wants to do what's best for students and everybody wants to do what's best for taxpayers.
There's a difficult decision coming for the Avon Grove School District, and right now the school board seems very much divided.
And at the March 8 meeting, there were signs that the school board won't work together toward a solution that will be best for both the students and the taxpayers.
Instead of narrowing the number of building options under consideration, or reaching a consensus on educational priorities that would shape the board's decision, or coming together on an agreed-upon amount of money that the district could afford to allocate for the much-needed secondary school building improvements, the board seemed to be more divided than ever on a vision for the district's future.
The Avon Grove School Board, as it is currently comprised, can make a good decision for the students and taxpayers in the district, but only if they are willing to listen to each other and work together. They also need to listen to the concerns of students, teachers, administrators and, most of all, the taxpayers.
Working together and compromising might mean that the most expensive and least expensive options get discarded in favor of an option that everyone can accept.
There is no inexpensive option here, and any suggestion that there is should be viewed with skepticism.
The high school is woefully overcrowded—as anyone who has stepped foot inside the building during a school day can attest. The building as a whole is occupied at 141 percent of its rated student capacity, and the common areas—the cafeteria, gym, hallways, auditorium, library, and bathrooms—aren't sufficient to serve more than 1,700 students. The building doesn't have the flexible spaces that the administration says the students need to succeed in 2018—the spaces that allow for a 21st Century curriculum heavy on science, technology, engineering, and math. The issues can't be fixed with a coat of paint and a new roof.
The administration has also emphasized the need to make the middle school a grades 6 to 8 building so that sixth-graders aren't grouped with elementary school students. A lack of space prompted the school district to have only grades seven and eight in the middle school.
We hope that the school board fully considers what the administration is saying. A disconnect between the administration and the school board is certainly not what's best for students.
Similarly, the school board must fully consider what residents are saying. There are definite financial constraints to be considered, and the school district has already boosted the investment it makes in things like curriculum development and technology in order to improve academic performance.
And, hopefully, the school board will do a better job of listening and being respectful to each other. When it gets to the point where one member is being openly rude to the gavel-wielding school board president—whose duty it is to steer the discussions during meetings—it doesn't look good.
We hope that the nine members of the Avon Grove School Board can work together, and that the next few facilities planning meetings are more productive.
Having the board reach a consensus on a plan is the best way to ensure that students and taxpayers are being served well.