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Tough decisions <br> Ken-Ton gets some needed outside help as it deals with declining enrollment

Just as you build up to meet the demands of an expanding residential population, there also has to be a contraction during a decline.

The Kenmore-Tonawanda School District is reaching out for help as it grapples with how to maintain education in the face of declining enrollment and crushing financial headaches. The School Board hired SES Study Team of Canastota to study the district's buildings, including staffing costs, distances and demographics.

In an attempt to ease the minds of residents concerned that the study is just a smokescreen to allow certain schools to close, the study team has given assurances that it has no preconceived notion of what should happen.

The results will be the results. And while that may be difficult for some community members to handle, it is necessary to right-size the district for today's reality.

Ken-Ton went from a peak in the late 1960s when more than 22,000 students attended 29 schools down to about 7,280 students this year.

As News reporters Barbara O'Brien and Janice Habuda outlined, the district now has 13 buildings – two high schools, three middle schools and eight elementary schools. Jefferson Elementary, which closed for a few years in the early 1980s, reportedly will close again next summer.

Besides the buildings, there are the people who work there, including teachers and administrative and support staff. Personnel costs, especially the legacy costs of lifetime health care and pension packages, is a concern shared by many of the 27 school districts and two Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) in Erie County.

Enrollment numbers in the county have been declining. Even the Williamsville district, which has added schools over the decades while closing only one elementary school years ago, is expecting a small decline in enrollment.

Ken-Ton has made a number of cost-saving moves over the years. The district shares a transportation director with the Grand Island School District.
Superintendent Mark Mondanaro froze his own pay and agreed to givebacks in his benefits to help stem the tide. The unions have cooperated, offering millions of dollars in contract concessions, and 88 teachers and dozens of other district employees have been laid off during the last two years.

And still, drastic action is needed. Some Ken-Ton residents will understandably be concerned over where their children will end up. It is a difficult reality to face, which is why community-wide cooperation with the SES study is important. Residents need to make their voices heard during the process. The district faces tough choices; having an outside group consider those choices will make the process as fair as possible.