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Few answers in Framingham school debate

Posted by Leslie Anderson  January 15, 2010 12:01 PM

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Framingham held its final community forum Thursday night to discuss a controversial proposal to restructure the town’s schools. But anyone looking for answers came away disappointed, as specifics were few.

And according to the School Committee chairman, the apparent lack of public support may not be enough to stop the proposal from going through.

‘‘We’ll look at this from what’s best for Framingham,’’ said Adam Blumer, chairman of the school board. ‘‘Hopefully my opinion will be in line with the rest of the community, but it may not be. I’ll vote for what I think is best.’’

Currently, eight elementary schools serve Framingham, each including grades K-5. Under the new proposal, six elementary schools would be divided into three pairs, with one school in each pair serving K-2 and the other serving grades 3-5.

The remaining two elementary schools would become Horace Mann charter schools that would offer two-way bilingual programs and a primary-years international baccalaureate program. Families would enter a lottery to send their children to the charter schools.

Parents have criticized the plan because they say it will increase commute times, send some students to schools with poorer academic standing and disrupt situations in which siblings are attending the same school.

School Superintendent Steven Hiersche said the main goal is to do what works for the school district as a whole, not for individual students.

‘‘What’s hard for parents and staff is that they are looking at it through the lens of their kids,’’ Hiersche said. ‘‘We have to look at it from the lens of over 3,000 kids.’’


Hiersche also believes that the showing at the two forums and the School Committee meeting is not indicative of the level of support for the proposed restructure.

‘‘I think what hasn’t come out in forums, because it never comes out in forums,’’ Hiersche said. ‘‘There is a lot more support for this than it looks.’’

Hiersche said he believes this is the right plan for Framingham, and that with time the public will come around. “The tenets of what we’re trying to accomplish educationally are there,” he said.

Framingham, with a large Brazilian population, has more than 8,000 students, 4,000 of whom are in elementary schools.

A task force that reviewed the school system last year reported that the current school choice plan, which has been in place since 1998, is unpopular with some parents. The reorganization plan grew out of that report.

The task force that created the original proposal will take community input and start filling in specific details in the plan. But after two weeks of what can only be characterized as overwhelmingly negative reaction from the public, Hiersche insists that moving forward, community concerns will be taken into account on the final proposal.

“We’ve been gathering feedback,” Hiersche said. “The chances of the final plan being what you’ve seen so far are pretty slim.”

Hiersche said the task force will be working until “at least the end of January,” saying that would be the earliest for a complete proposal.

“It’s going to be a lot of figuring out costs, savings or any increases that will come from the plan,” Hiersche said. “We’ll compile public input and look at the plan and see what changes.”

But when a final presentation will be presented to the public and finally receive a School Committee vote is up in the air. Hiersche said the next step will depend on what implementation process is recommended by the task force. Hiersche said he believes they are looking at either a 2010 or 2011 start date, as opposed to a phase-in.

“It’s pretty complicated to do a partial phase in,” Hiersche said. “Ideally we’d be able to phase in year-by-year, but it takes money that isn’t available.”

According to Blumer, after a final proposal is prepared, the community will have time to give input.

“The final plan will not be voted on at the same [School Committee] meeting that it is presented at,” Blumer said. “There will be a meeting where people can talk about the [final plan,] at least one meeting, maybe more.”

Hiersche said that he and the task force will “definitely go back to the public again,” but he does not know in what format or when.

“We may go to smaller venues or larger venues,” Hiersche said. “We may not go about it in the same way.”

Hiersche continued to stress that the current model is outdated.

“The schools are not equal,” Hiersche said. “Choice has not worked.”

Jason Woods can be reached at jwoods@globe.com.

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