Middleburgh ends middle school "experiment"


By David Avitabile

Middleburgh school board members agreed to move the sixth grade back up to the elementary school, effectively ending the middle school experiment in the district.
The move will take effect in the fall.
At a special meeting Wednesday evening, board members adopted the recommendations of a school re-organization committee to move the sixth grade to the elementary school. The secondary school would house grades seventh through 12 with a seventh and eighth grade team.
Now administrators and board members will have to make other changes such as combining offices and making personnel changes, such as cutting the middle school principal's position.
The moves will save about $200,000 to $300,000, committee member and high school teacher Wes Laraway said last month. Staff reductions would be an ongoing savings.
No one spoke against the change and board member. Resident Marjorie Troidl read a letter denouncing the need for a middle school in the first place.
"Twenty years ago," Ms. Troidl told school board members, "a group of parents fought against the creation of the middle school...We were reminded we were not in charge and sent home. Though the current reasons for abandoning the middle school are not all inclusive, we are happy to hear it.
Whether you think it was a group disagreeing with policy or our claim that creating the middle school was detrimental to the education of the Class of 1998 (of which her son was a member) and a cause for immense bitterness to the parents of these students, it is comforting to us to finally be able to let go of one of life's injustices.
"While we are sorry for our school's financial plight, we believe this reorganization will be a positive one in the end."
When the proposal was presented last month, Mr. Laraway said he had a lot of questions and concerns about the changes, but the moves were the only way a district the size of MCS can save money without cutting staff.
Now that the plan has been approved, board members will then have to realign administrators and decide on staff reductions, which will have to be made with contractual obligations in mind.
Currently, there are three building principals, one each for the elementary, middle and high school. It is expected that with the change, there would be two principals, one for the elementary, grades pre-kindergarten through sixth grade, and one for the secondary, seventh through 12th grades.
The elimination of a building principal would be a large savings.
The salary for the middle school principal is partially funded by a grant which expires on June 30, 2014.
District officials said they were not able to apply for the next grant to pay for a portion of the middle school principal's salary.
Several board members last month expressed concern about the failure to be able to apply for the grant and the debate sparked reservations about having a business official shared with another school.
Some board members wondered why the district could not go back to having its own full-time business person like several other area schools.
Superintendent Michele Weaver told board members it is difficult for a district the size of MCS to attract a qualified candidate at a competitive salary.
MCS has been sharing a business official with Cobleskill-Richmondville for several years.
Since the mid-1990s, the middle school has been housed on the second floor of the secondary school while most of the high school classes have been on the first floor.
With the end of the middle school, the middle and high school offices will likely be combined into one location, as proposed by the committee. The two guidance offices would also be combined and be housed in one room.
The move of the sixth graders back up to the elementary school would necessitate the moving of the central offices, the superintendent's office and the business office, to the high school.
The move of the central offices to the high school was suggested for security reasons, committee members said. The offices are currently in the elementary school, across from the cafeteria and next to the gym.
Because of a decrease in enrollment, several rooms are currently under-utilized in elementary school.
Officials said that at least six rooms are under-utilized.
In the elementary school, services such as physical and occupational therapy, academic intervention services, and special education will likely be moved to the current location of the central offices.
In addition to moving students and offices, other decisions and changes will have to be made before the move would be made in the fall.
Sixth graders currently get art, music and technology education in the middle school. Art and music classes could be continued in the elementary school, but technology would have to be increased in the seventh and eighth grades.
In addition, there would be no elementary graduation this June for the current fifth graders since they would spend another year in the school. They would have their elementary graduation in June 2015 before heading up to the high school.