Schools vote shows gumption

Published 9:58 pm Thursday, January 22, 2009

In a move that was very likely just symbolic, the Suffolk Planning Commission sent a message on Wednesday that the city needs separate elementary schools to serve the Whaleyville and Holland communities. During their consideration of the city’s capital improvements plan, planners voted to remove the word “combined” from that plan’s line item setting aside $23 million for construction of a new school.

The commission’s decision to send forward a recommendation for a plan that calls for separate schools serving each of the two communities pleased School Board members and parents in attendance on Wednesday. It’s likely to have the opposite effect when it reaches the City Council, which has been unsupportive of the School Board’s request that the city’s youngest students not be forced to ride halfway across the city to get to school.

It’s important to note that the commission did not recommend adding extra money to the capital plan. In essence, the group just took the concept of building a single, large school and changed it into one of building two smaller ones to replace the aging Southwestern and Robertson elementary schools. There is surely room to wonder whether the commission’s plan could be put into action for the same $23 million.

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Even so, the Planning Commission is to be commended for hearing and giving consideration to the concerns of parents and School Board members, the two groups who have the best understanding of what’s at stake. It would have been easy to plead “recession” and send along a flawed plan for approval by the City Council.

There’s still a pretty good chance the council will approve that flawed plan, anyway, as the Planning Commission’s decision is only advisory. Consistency, however, would seem to require that council members support the dual-school approach and hope for money from the federal government — just as they’ve done in the case of $94 million worth of improvements needed along Holland Road.

It will be an interesting vote to watch.