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Ken-Ton debates its difficult choices at public forum

There were no pitchforks, torches or protest signs as the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School District held the second of four public forums on its school consolidation plans Thursday evening in the Hoover Middle School auditorium.

As for the reverberations from Kenmore Mayor Patrick Mang’s complaint this week that closing two schools in the village would take the “Ken” out of Ken-Ton, they were muted.

The only speaker giving voice to Mang’s view was Village Trustee Katie Burd, who said she appreciated the plan to reuse Kenmore Middle School for district offices, but added, “I can’t support the dismantling of the only two schools in … Kenmore.

“Like churches, libraries and businesses, schools are the building blocks of the community,” she said. “It will drastically change our landscape and leave some of our most vulnerable neighborhoods subject to decay.”

But other concerns were on the minds of most of the parents and taxpayers who came forward to speak after School Superintendent Mark P. Mondanaro’s 90-minute presentation on the plans.

Some worried that the elimination of one or two elementary schools would lead to larger class sizes. Others balked at how and when students would have to move to new schools.

One woman noted that her son would go from Kenmore Middle School to another middle school and then to high school in the space of three years. Other speakers complained that redistricting would move a number of Kenmore West High School juniors to rival Kenmore East for their senior year.

Several objected to a plan that would put middle school students in a wing of underutilized Kenmore East, fearing that seventh-graders would have too much contact with 12th-graders.

Opinions were divided, however, on whether to merge the two high schools.

“Instead of two valedictorians, you’re going to have one,” said the mother of a middle school girl. “Instead of two football teams, you’ll have one. Instead of two musicals, you’ll have one. You’ll eliminate opportunities for the average child.”

A retired teacher and alumna of the Ken-Ton district took a different view.

“What is wrong with collaboration?” she asked. “Call it Kenmore High School East-West. Let’s combine, work together and move on.”

Mondanaro said school leaders had taken great pains to be open with the public about the consolidation plans, which have taken two years to develop. “We’re an open, transparent district all the way around,” he said as he opened his presentation. “This is a tough decision. We know that.”

Noting that he lives in the district and soon will have two grandchildren in the Ken-Ton schools, he added, “I have as much of a stake in it as you do.”

The district will have two more public forums on the consolidation plans at 4 and 7 p.m. Monday in the Kenmore East High School auditorium. That will be followed by a School Board consolidation work session at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, also at Kenmore East.