Montrose explores restructuring

The Montrose Area School District is experiencing a significant financial crisis, said Superintendent Chris McComb. “A $600,000 deficit has been standard for the past few years.”

As he was hired by the board last year to the superintendent position, McComb was tasked with finding a way to address the deficit while making educational improvements in the district.

To that end, McComb –along with the district’s administrative team – looked at several potential fixes landing on one proposal that would restructure the buildings into grade specific learning centers.

The proposal presented includes changing Choconut Valley Elementary to a kindergarten through second grade learning center; Lathrop Street Elementary would house third through fifth grades; and a “true middle school” of sixth through eighth grades would be created at the Jr-Sr High School.

McComb said reductions in staffing in both elementary schools has been happening over several years with the district opting to not fill positions created with retirements in an effort to meet declining enrollment. In 2000, district enrollment was 1,994; currently it is 1,272.

The superintendent sees benefits to the proposal including balancing class sizes, providing students the same educational experience, and bringing the students together at an earlier age to create more of a unified district.

That plan was offered up to the public Monday night at an informational meeting held prior to the regular monthly board meeting with about 200 in attendance to ask questions and voice concerns.

McComb said the financial savings would be realized through retirements, and the district could then avoid furloughs and constant tax increases. “We do not want to cut programming or extracurriculars,” he said.

“Is this the perfect answer? No. But it’s a step in the right direction. My job is to present options that may get us on the right path,” McComb said.

The superintendent said transportation models could be dramatically improved with the plan. “It would eliminate all kindergarten to second graders riding with high school students,” he said. It would also eliminate all students making bus transfers.

Currently, 98 Montrose students have bus rides longer than 70 minutes. The new model would eliminate those. Those now riding over 60 minutes totals 199, a number reduced to 13 with changed routes. “Overall there are significant improvements,” McComb said. Average bus rides would be about 35 minutes, he said at the Monday night meeting.

“To not do anything and hope things change – that’s not realistic,” McComb said and offered that this plan was better than other alternatives they had also considered.

McComb stressed that no decision on the proposed restructuring had been made by the board.

Audience members heard from administrators on various aspects of the proposal, along with the superintendent, on Monday as they detailed benefits as well as identified concerns. Following the presentation, the floor was opened up to questions from the audience.

Many questions focused on the length of bus rides; proximity of parents to the schools; and safety and security.

Some also suggested phasing in changes instead of implementing them all at once.

“I don’t think this can be slammed through in a year,” said one district resident. “I hate to see our children become guinea pigs.”

“I’m so against this it’s not even funny,” said one man, and he questioned the proposed bus route changes.

Some also said changes may compel them to home school their children.

Others in the audience suggested the changes could work, but more information would be needed. They also expressed their thanks to the district for holding the informational meeting.

The district plans to post the presentation on the school website, along with a survey for residents.

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