District may merge elementary and middle schools

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Parents and students of Garden Village Elementary could find themselves walking across the street to Benjamin Franklin Intermediate if a proposal to consolidate the two schools is approved.

The physical distance between the schools isn’t great, but the proposed move has put parents and district officials worlds apart.

A report from Jefferson School District’s Long-Term Enrollment Committee — convened in 2006 to develop a plan to deal with the district’s sagging student population — has recommended that Garden Village be consolidated into Ben Franklin by the 2008-09 school year, making it a K-8 school.

In 1995 the district’s schools had 8,129 students, but since that year enrollment has steadily dropped to its current level of 5,959. The district closed two schools, Christopher Columbus and Colma Elementary, after the 2003-04 year due to low enrollment, and the following year, 385 students left the district.

While the committee’s report is only a recommendation, Garden Village parents aren’t ready to see a similar fate befall their children’s school. In particular, some parents are concerned that a K-8 school is not an appropriate environment for kindergarten students.

“Ben Franklin is not made to house kindergartners,” said Josey Duffy, parent of two students at Garden Village and the Parent-Teacher Association vice president for the school. “Nobody wants a little kindergartner playing with an eighth-grader.”

The enrollment committee, made up of community members, parents and others, had a difficult task, committee member Alvin Schwarzbach said. No matter the solution, someone would be upset.

“It came out pretty balanced, and unfortunately, in a situation like this, nobody could possibly be happy with what the results are,” Schwarzbach said.

While Daniel Webster Elementary was previously discussed for potential consolidation, the committee focused on Garden Village because the students could be accommodated in Ben Franklin “without any hardship on the parents and students,” he said.

A variety of factors have caused enrollment to decline, including the high cost of living. When those numbers aren’t supplemented by students moving into the district, the district loses money, Superintendent Barbara Wilson said.

The district is trying to bring in more students by advertising their schools and trying to establish connections with families in the community. Closing Garden Village could potentially cost them students and revenue, however, as some parents said they’d take their kids out of the district if the consolidation went through.

“I will pull my kids out of the school district if they close Garden Village,” said Laura Godby, a parent of two at the school and a graduate of it. “They’re in the public school system because I like Garden Village so much.”

The Jefferson School District Board will review the committee’s recommendations at their Feb. 14 meeting, but will not take action on the report that night.

dsmith@examiner.com

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