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Ex-superintendent sheds light on realignment woes

Outraged parents. Complaints of long bus rides. Residents pitted against one another, and seemingly everyone against the school board and superintendent.

Joseph L. Girardi has seen it all when a school district realigns the boundaries of elementary schools to equalize enrollment, and it isn't pretty.

"It all worked out fine, but at the time, if they had a body to stuff and burn, it would have been mine," said the former Lancaster school superintendent.

He was superintendent when Lancaster reconfigured enrollment lines in 1998, and he knows what the Orchard Park Central School District is going through.

"It's never, never an easy task," he said. "In the long run, though, the kids will make the adjustment, better than the parents."

Orchard Park started looking at uneven enrollment in the district's four elementary schools about two years ago with the Capacity Committee, which determined redistricting was necessary. The Re-Alignment Task Force, which included parents from each school, analyzed information throughout the summer and presented a plan in September that moved 667 pupils.

Parents objected, and School Board members directed the superintendent to come up with options that move fewer pupils. They keyed in on Plan 212, which would move 212 pupils from three schools into Windom Elementary, the school with the lowest enrollment.

"I will support, and I can support, any plan the board decides to implement," said Orchard Park Superintendent Joan Thomas, adding that she sees "great merit" in the plans that would move 632 and 667 pupils. "I also can understand the board wanted to look at a plan that moves fewer children."

Thomas said the four most recent plans presented Nov. 13 all allow for special education and BOCES classes in each school. There are four special education classes in Windom Elementary and two in Ellicott Elementary today.

Girardi says no matter the plan and its objectives, it's difficult when a school board gets pressured.

"The difficult part is getting the board to stay together on the issue," he said. "They, all of a sudden, get inundated with parents. They get a lot of pressure; they don't deal with that every day."

He also warned that parents upset with redistricting have one place to voice their displeasure: at the budget vote. "If you get everyone upset in your community, guess where they're going to take it out?" he said.

Thomas said it may seem like Orchard Park is rushing the issue, but a decision needs to be made soon because the different plans will have different impacts on the budget and they must be accommodated in the budget.

"I don't know where it's going to end. I honestly don't know," Thomas said.


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