Fredonia student shift set to begin
By MICHAEL RUKAVINA
OBSERVER Photo by Michael Rukavina
Fredonia Central School Board President Daniel Ihasz reads Tuesday, for a second time, a resolution to move students from Wheelock to the Main Street campus.
OBSERVER Staff Writer
Fredonia Central School Board of Education Vice President Roberta Coniglio and member Edith Byrne summed up some feelings behind a unanimous decision to shift all students on to the Main Street campus by prefacing their “yes” votes with statements of “unfortunately” and “with a heavy heart.”
The resolution that authorizes movement of students in grades pre-kindergarten through Grade 2, currently located at the Wheelock School Campus to the Main Street Campus, effective with the 2010-2011 school year, was read for the second time during Tuesday’s board meeting. Superintendent Paul DiFonzo asked that the board consider its approval that evening, which it did.
“It’s not something we want to recommend, but really when we look at the budget situation and we look at the enrollment, it makes a lot of sense,” he said. “We truly believe we can provide quality education, that the quality of our education comes from our programs and staffing that we have. Wheelock is a beautiful building, but we’re not proposing that we close it, but that we rent that space out to gain revenue and that we make the Main Street campus the facility for all of our pre-K through 12 students.”
Over the past few months DiFonzo reiterated that this decision did not happen over night and that the possibility has been on the table for years. Most recently, however, the situation became real enough to enlist administrators to propose and present classroom configurations before the board as to how the Main Street campus would house the influx of students.
“Ten years ago on the Main Street campus we had over 1,600 students and if we brought all of Wheelock over next year we’d be somewhere around 1,500 students,” DiFonzo noted. “Wheelock is a beloved building that has been here for us through the years but we think we can do an outstanding job and I’m confident (elementary principal) Mr. Detwiler and (Wheelock principal) Mrs. Piper can make this transition a smooth one.”
Added reason to approve the resolution was the fact the district is currently sitting on a proposed budget that will require the cutting of $1.4 million just to reach a zero spending increase for the upcoming school year. According to DiFonzo, even if that is reached, taxpayers could still expect a tax rate increase upwards of 13 percent, should the governor’s proposed budget be approved without change.
“I think everyone who lives in Fredonia as part of our community is saddened by the idea that we have to move our entire student population to the Main Street campus, that said, I think people realize that the thing that makes our district special are the programs that we offer, the staff that we have and our students and parents,” he said.
The shift of students will affect the current configuration on the Main Street campus. The middle school will now house students in grades 5-8, as opposed to its current grades 6-8. The configuration is not uncommon in the state.
“We’ve talked about this on numerous occasions with our Site Base Team, for several years now, and we’ve had lengthy meetings about it, middle school principal Andrew Ludwig said during his Feb. 23 presentation. “All parents on the team had students in the fifth grade and none of them expressed any strong concerns that the fifth graders wouldn’t fit into the middle school and that we couldn’t run an excellent middle school with grades five through eight.”
During that presentation, Ludwig also noted that even with an additional 120 fifth graders in the middle school the structure would still not have reached the 500 it totaled when he started as principal.
More information on the move is expected to trickle out as the process moves forward, beginning with a presentation during the next regular board meeting on March 23 at 6:30 p.m. that will highlight the anticipated cost savings, a possible timeline, the possible changes required of the Main Street campus, and the expected moving costs the district could see.
Julie Essek of Fredonia handed a strategic action plan to the board during the public portion of the meeting and asked that the board make this move as cost effective as possible and to limit excessive overtime of staff. The concern expressed was the only by the public with regard to the move during Tuesday’s meeting.
“As middle school principal here, we moved three buildings in the space of three or four weeks,” DiFonzo said. “We had three new areas open up on the Main Street campus – one in the high school, one in the elementary and one in the middle school – so I’ve been apart of a moving process and we were able to do it in a very short amount of time with organization and skill. I suspect, I will talk with other superintendents that have to look at moving students from different buildings, making sure we’re mindful of all the students, staff and parents and we’ll make appropriate moves as they come along.”
More information on the change is expected to be placed on a new Web site, similar to that during the centralization talks with Brocton. Visit fredonia.wnyric.org for more information. The public will also have an opportunity to tour the elementary building to get an idea of how the new configuration will be setup. The board will host a tour following their March 23 meeting. Detwiller also said the PTA is holding a joint meeting on April 8 on the Main Street campus and is inviting parents to come to ask questions and to hopefully host a tour of their own with teachers.
“Wheelock has been a special place, especially when you consider the primary level and the programs that we offer. I think that will carry over to the Main Street campus and we’re going to make this a positive situation,” DiFonzo said.
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