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Published: Wednesday, 4/11/2007

Fifth graders would leave elementaries under plan


Northwood fifth graders may soon be grouped with older students to save money.

Administrators in the Northwood Local School District have drawn up a proposal that would move fifth graders out of Lark and Olney elementary schools and into Northwood Middle School, beginning with the 2007-08 school year, Superintendent Greg Clark said.

The plan is to be aired to the public at large at the school board's meeting on Monday night.

The meeting was moved up from its scheduled date of April 19 so it could be held immediately after a forum on a proposed tax increase, scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday.

Administrators want the proposal to work because district enrollment has been decreasing. The district also expects not to replace two retiring elementary school teachers as part of a plan to save about $200,000 a year.

The plan would create two teams of teachers at the middle school - one for fifth and sixth graders and the other for seventh and eighth graders.

The fifth and sixth graders would share a science teacher and social studies teacher, Mr. Clark said. "It's just a much more efficient way to use our staffing at the middle school," he said.

Under the block scheduling at the middle school, fifth graders would be guaranteed a 90-minute block of math and language arts each day, and more instructional time because there is no recess.

Fifth graders will also have the opportunity to take band class during the school day with the older students, instead of after school.

Mr. Clark said he discussed the plan with the elementary and middle school staff last week along with parents of fourth graders whose children would be in the first affected class.

Though he took some heat for limiting that meeting to them, he said administrators wanted to keep the meeting to a manageable size.

Those who attended have "legitimate concerns that we need to address if this is a move that we need to make," Mr. Clark said.

Scott Phelps, the district's school board president, said the plan is feasible.

"We're looking at long-term savings with actually giving additional academic benefits to the fifth-grade class," he said.

Mr. Clark said he will recommend the plan to the school board when it convenes Monday following the discussion about the proposed tax hike.

The school board has placed an additional, 5.9-mill continuing operating levy on the ballot to offset a projected $1.3 million deficit in June, 2009.

If passed, it will raise $740,000 annually. Owners of homes and business property valued at $100,000, for example, will pay about $206 a year for it. The district has a $10 million budget. A mill is a $1 tax for every $1,000 of assessed, taxable property.

"The prices go up, and the dollar amount that the schools bring in remains the same," Mr. Clark said.

The funding can pay for any operational costs the district incurs, including teachers' salaries, textbooks, technology, transportation, and utilities.

Mr. Phelps said the school board has not developed a contingency plan if the proposed levy fails.

Said Mr. Clark: "I have a responsibility to all members of the community to ensure that we not only are educating kids to the best of our ability, but also doing it in [the] most financially responsible manner possible."

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