A question that has been lingering around the Van Alstyne ISD school board for months will be around for at least one more as trustees did not take a vote on the configuration of the district’s planned second elementary school at a special called meeting on Monday night.
The issue here is that a debate has sprung up in the community as to whether the district should keep each elementary school campus a Pre-K through grade 5 facility (as is the district’s recommended configuration) or have one campus designated as a PK through grade 2 facility and the other a grade 3 through 5 facility.
A faction of parents and citizens is concerned that the planned configuration will splinter the town and create undue competition between the two schools as many expressed openly in a town hall meeting held in June. There, some parents spoke of wanting to configure the campuses as Pre-K through grade 2 and grade 3 through grade 5 campuses with one campus housing Pre-K through grade 2 and the other grades 3 through 5.
The issue came up again in an Aug. 8 open meeting, though this time no members of the public attended. Missing one member from that meeting, the board decided to take no action and met again about the subject in the special meeting on Monday night. This time just four community members attended. Board member Steve Roddy emerged on this night as the most vocal proponent of the alternative method of splitting grade levels between the two campuses. He addressed his fellow board members and Superintendent John Spies as a citizen under the Citizen Comments section of the night’s meeting.
“This is awkward for me to stand here before you because I’ve sat in that seat for 18 years,” said Roddy.
Roddy went on to say that he has been approached by numerous citizens, parents and even some ISD employees, all in favor of the alternate configuration plan and that he had literally no one say to him that they were in favor of the proposed configuration favored by the district, that of Pre-K through 5 campuses. Roddy went on to speak of research he had done on benefits to this alternate model, using STAAR scores from districts utilizing this configuration, among other statistics. He cited more attention given to students, better student distribution for learning styles and the ability to maximize classroom spaces with fewer empty classrooms. Roddy used as examples neighboring school districts Melissa and Celina. He also mentioned parents’ desires to maintain unity in the community.
“As a citizen, I don’t want to see that happen,” said Roddy of the currently proposed configuration. “Now is not the time.”
When it came time to discuss the configuration it was clear that there were supporters on each side of the discussion and what transpired was thoughtful, thorough and oftentimes passionate debate, one which ran the meeting till nearly the 11:00 hour.
Facts were presented for each side, and some of the facts presented by Roddy earlier in the meeting were called into question as Spies and the board picked through the issue. Spies said that he had spoken with superintendents from neighboring districts that said they would never go the PK-2,3-5 route again and that they favored the PK-5 configuration.
Discussed at length were issues that would be affected by the alternate configuration, things such as longer bus travel times for elementary students and longer car lines for parents resulting in approximately 25 percent longer wait times. Spies also pointed out that it would cost approximately $375,000 more to build the new school under the alternate configuration as it would going the PK-5 route, though board member David Kerr added that it will take more money to bring the current elementary school to the same level as a newly-built elementary school, offsetting that argument.
The heart of the debate, however, centered on public input with Roddy stressing repeatedly that those in the public he had spoken with felt as though their voices were not being given a voice.
“That’s the biggest complaint I’m hearing,” said Roddy, “that that they feel like they’re not being heard.”
However, other board members pointed out the lack of attendance on the night and wondered aloud why the attendance was so small. Board president Randall Morgan added that the board must weigh the public’s input with factual data when making its decision.
Several solutions to garner public input were bandied about until a suggestion by Spies was accepted as the best possible option. He proposed posting an information page on the district’s website listing the pros and cons of each approach (with the board approving the verbiage before publishing) and asking for any additional information the public feels might be relevant to the issue. Spies said he hoped to have it posted within the coming days and those interested should check the district’s site at http://www.vanalstyneisd.org/ under the “Latest News” section.
A vote on this issue is scheduled for the school board’s September meeting.