July 16, 2013 | Vol. 94, No. 165

School consolidation talks should begin

To the Editor:

My name is Kim Wright. I’m a member of the Bessemer School Board. I’m a retired teacher who has been subbing a day or two a week in Wakefield and Ironwood these past few years.

If there’s one word I’ve heard more than others during this service, it’s “consolidation.” Given the talk running through our towns, perhaps it’s time we examine it.

In our more populated and job abundant past, our schools and colors identified each of our communities more than any other single thing. Money and infrastructure weren’t problems. Today they are.

Our school boards have a duty to consider consolidation. We want our local elected officials and district voters to decide a local issue. If we continue to lose financial ground, Lansing can order annexation. That’s not very appealing.

Understand I don’t have the answers whether consolidation is the best way to proceed. There’s a huge human component involved here, and a deep thicket of financial cost and benefit that any business must address. Talk about grabbing a tiger by the tail — this is it.

I propose we do our homework so we can avoid guesswork. If we were to proceed as suggested here to measure, by survey, popular opinion regarding various consolidation scenarios, it will only be useful, more so if good and popular ideas arose from a healthy critique of our schools. A survey will tell us whether our towns are prepared to be compatible, equal partners.

So, for example, if a survey shows us that consensus only exists between Bessemer and Wakefield-Marenisco for consolidation, we can proceed without Ironwood until that consensus develops. Whatever the results are, we want to start talking.

Study groups from school boards, principals, superintendents, teachers, faculty reps, parents, business and community leaders are great sources of feedback. What greater asset do we have to put this puzzle together than teachers, administrators and staff that want to live here and educate our children?

Research should be done showing real numbers regarding the cost of a new school, for example. As my school board colleague Al Gaiss observed in a recent column, we the taxpayer have to pay for it. Voters will make an informed decision with an organized presentation of costs and benefits to the taxpayer and community.

We have to be smart about this. I look forward to making specific proposals like this at future school board meetings.

Kim Wright

Bessemer