Don’t ignore the School Board

Published 10:58 pm Friday, December 12, 2008

In case there was any question where City Council staff members stand on the issue of elementary schools in Suffolk’s rural areas, it became pretty clear this week with the release of a preliminary version of the 2010-2019 Capital Improvements Plan.

Apparently ignoring the stated preference of the Suffolk School Board, that plan calls for consolidation of Robertson and Southwestern elementary schools. School system officials have long angled for replacement of Southwestern and renovation of Robertson. The School Board plan would cost Suffolk an additional $11 million above the projected $23 million for a new school, officials predict.

Normally, this paper takes a conservative approach to taxpayer’s money, but there are serious questions about the wisdom of the City Council approach, which would put a new school capable of serving both communities’ students in some central location that would require the areas’ youngest school-age children to be bused great distances every weekday.

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Elementary students are particularly ill suited for the long bus rides that would result.

Perhaps as worrisome is the apparent disdain the City Council has shown the School Board regarding the rural elementary school issue. A School Board request this summer for a joint meeting with the City Council remains unanswered. The board’s concerns about consolidation of the two schools would have been on the agenda of that meeting, if it had ever been held.

Instead, it appears that the council — or at least its staff — has already decided how it feels about the issue and is prepared to set its funding plans in motion without the benefit of the special knowledge that School Board members have about the issue.

Whatever its final decision on the matter, it would be useful for City Council to grant the School Board the face time it is once again requesting and to do so before approving the capital improvements plan. Ignoring the School Board’s expertise on the matter could put a heavy burden on some very young students.