Two weeks ago, when the group tasked with finding a new home for Falmouth’s senior center narrowed their list down to eight sites, three of those sites were school buildings: the Morse Pond School on Jones Road, Teaticket Elementary School on Maravista Avenue, and the School Administration Building overlooking the triangular green between Sandwich Road and Route 28.
On May 27, Superintendent Bonny L. Gifford said the senior center site list was “totally generated by that group”—the senior center site feasibility working group. Closing a school building is “not right now” a topic being discussed at the administrative level, she said.
“Any decision for the school department, it’d be giant,” Dr. Gifford said. “There’d be a committee, public involvement.”
Dr. Gifford said the senior site group informed her that the school buildings were on the list and she then met with them to “listen to their ideas.”
School enrollment, after declining sharply over the previous decade, has held steady at around 3,550 students for the past three years. Enrollment peaked at 5,218 students in 1995. A school demographics task force report from 2012 broached the idea of closing a school to save money. Comments made at this year’s school committee meetings indicate that idea was met with fierce resistance from staff and parents.
Dr. Gifford said that the author of the report recommended that if she brought the idea of closing a building up again, that she couch the possibility in terms of the benefits to students, rather than the budget savings.
Benefits to students, Dr. Gifford said, include the ability to evenly distribute students so class sizes are less vulnerable to fluctuating enrollments at the town’s four elementary schools (high at one school one year and low at another); it also makes aligning curriculum and coordinating staff professional development easier, she said.
But Dr. Gifford stressed that she is not currently considering building consolidation. However, principals, department heads, and central office staff are currently going through a strategic planning process. Part of that process is coming up with three to five main focus areas, she said. Each focus area will then be assigned a committee that will consist of teachers, administrators, and parents.
Dr. Gifford said it was possible that consolidating schools could emerge as a focus area. This past winter, when the school faced an initial budget gap of $1.6 million for FY2015, Dr. Gifford presented slides on the issue of creating long-term “sustainability” in the school budget; closing a building was listed as an option to explore.
Also this winter, former school committee member Emily A. Davern urged the school department to consider vacating the School Administrative Building as a cost-saving measure, possibly moving central office staff into the high school.