WOODSTOCK – School consolidation was a hot button issue at the first of the Woodstock School District 200 Board candidate forums Wednesday at Woodstock High School.
Nine candidates vie for four open seats on the District 200 board and voiced their opinions on a variety of topics Wednesday at the first candidate forum. Two incumbents – Bill Nattress and Board President Carl Gilmore – are running along with John Parisi, Susan Handelsman, Barbara Gessert, Suzann Schroeder, Karen Kockler, Jill Ferrarini and Jacob Homuth – who was absent from Wednesday’s forum because of illness.
The district is considering the topic of school consolidation in order to save money. Candidates differed on whether closing schools would be the best way to move forward, but incumbents were quick to remind the audience that there was no proposal on the table.
“There is no school consolidation plan right now,” Gilmore said. “As far as it sits right now, there is nothing for me to consider.”
But Parisi – who also is a member of the facilities committee in the process of looking at school consolidation – said that the district still was early on in the planning process and that some kind of facility consolidation wasn’t off the table either.
“There are facilities in the district that are sorely in need of safety upgrades that have serious maintenance concerns coming,” he said. “There may need to be facility consolidation. We’re not talking about losing full-time employees. We’re not talking about losing teachers. … There is a lot to look at still.”
Other candidates said there were other ways the district could save money without consolidation.
Gessert said the consolidation would be an opportunity to save the district money: “Then consolidation is an opportunity to close office space,” she said. “We don’t want people to have jobs and commitments to their families to lose and cut those parts of the budget. We don’t want to cut jobs or affect children’s education. The superintendent has said the opportunity for consolidation can happen without affecting education. … The buildings are just buildings.”
Schroeder said that taking advantage of unused space would be a way to save money.
“There are two completely unused office suites, which could potentially house one of the district offices, but also the annex on the building on the Square, and we would save money that way,” she said. “In addition to that, taking a look at the busing system. Currently there is a bus that runs with 10 or less kids on them. It doesn’t seem like the most efficient way.”
Handelsman said that spending needs to be cut.
“We have the highest amount of administrative salaries, which is unfortunately beyond the means of our community,” she said. “We need to look into outsourcing externally our goods and transportation departments.”
Kockler said she recognizes the challenge of providing sound education while remaining fiscally responsible but believes she has the experience necessary to rise to the challenge.
Ferrarini was the only candidate who opposes the district’s transgender bathroom policy, which allows transgender students to use the facilities that align with their gender identities. She also opposes consolidating the high schools, she said.
“Right off the bat, I do oppose putting the high schools together,” she said. “I don’t feel that is the best way to reduce taxes. I want to see our school and community have a symbiotic relationship.”
Nattress said that it might be time to rethink the layout of the district.
“The referendum said build those new schools,” he said. “These are things we might need to rethink. I’m not saying we should close a building, because we can’t afford it anymore. I’m saying that maybe we look at consolidating like programs in a single building.”