East Aurora middle-schoolers would have a school to call their own under a new grade-level structure approved Wednesday night by the School Board.
Despite vehement arguments by board member Stephen Zagrobelny, who cast the lone vote against the plan, the board approved the conversion of the former Southside School into a middle school for sixth- through eighth-graders. The board's 6-1 vote followed nearly two hours of debate.
The board's decision on Southside means that Parkdale Elementary School would remain a primary school for kindergarten through second grade, with a smaller addition. Main Street School would continue to house third through fifth grades but no longer would be a combined middle school for sixth through eighth grades.
"We need to put our money in our educational programs versus spending it on brick and mortar," said board member Kathyann Lorka.
Until now, the grade-level issue has been highly divisive as the board struggled to settle on a grade-level scenario that would best suit students, educational goals and taxpayers, while avoiding redistricting.
"We have facilities that will be misused under this scenario and not provide for growth," Zagrobelny said, accusing the board of ignoring facts. "I will in no manner, shape or form, support this because it makes no sense."
Zagrobelny had pushed for Southside and Parkdale to each be smaller elementary schools with kindergarten through fourth grades. Parents in the district also have been split on the issue, some favoring Southside for middle school and others backing Zagrobelny's ideas.
Parent Anna Davidson suggested that Southside would be a better and safer alternative for younger children than putting them at Main Street School.
Most of the board said it couldn't disregard what many felt would be a lesser financial hit for taxpayers by going with the Southside middle school conversion, instead of having two smaller elementary schools and keeping the middle schoolers at the Main Street building.
Parent Eric Sweet reminded the board that some taxpayers already are facing higher water bills and other possible tax increases for other projects at the same time the school district is pitching a districtwide reconstruction project.
The district has said that Southside, as a middle school, would be eligible for much more state aid than it would as an elementary school. If that is the case, board members said, they hope it would free up money for other improvements to benefit students, including work at the Main Street building and converting asphalt to green space for students.
"It's the most educationally suitable and financially prudent" because of the available state aid, said board member James Whitcomb.
Board member Dennis Holbrook agreed. "We have to be cognizant of what we ask the community and taxpayers to afford," he said.
The board will meet March 1 in a special session to nail down the total project cost and firm up a project timeline that tentatively calls for a referendum in the fall.