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Central District To Reconfigure Schools

Board members of the Central School District approved a realignment of grade levels at local elementary and middle schools, beginning next fall.

Board members of the Central School District approved a realignment of grade levels at local elementary and middle schools, beginning next fall.

Under the new plan Ash Creek Intermediate School, which currently serves 5th and 6th grades, and all three Monmouth and Independence elementary schools will handle kindergarten through 5th grades.

Talmadge Middle School will serve grades 6 through 8. The board voted unanimously on Monday for the changes.

"One, we have space issues at our schools," said board member Kevin Sicard. "Two, Talmadge has capacity ... I don't think this will affect academic standards."

Since December, officials have been exploring ways to use a portion of last year's voter-approved bond to alleviate overcrowding at district buildings.

The $13.5 million bond included $5.5 million earmarked for enrollment issues. All schools except Talmadge are at or above enrollment capacity.

A major challenge is the influx of new kindergartners in the district. Their numbers will grow annually by 7 percent until 2015, Superintendent Joseph Hunter has said.

Reconfiguration ideas ranged from creating several K-8 schools and turning Ash Creek into a 4-6 school, to leaving the district unchanged. Moving 6th graders to the middle school, and turning Ash Creek and the other three elementary schools into K-5 programs was the most viable option, Hunter said.

The district will construct a 14,000-square-foot wing, containing 10 classrooms, to house 6th graders at Talmadge. It will also do safety and code updates to the rest of the building, said Mike Maloney, Central bond manager. Cost is estimated at $4.9 million.

The district has already approved $600,000 to add portable classrooms at the elementary schools.

The change will alleviate crowding problems in the schools, officials say. Monmouth Elementary School, for example, currently has 501 students; its projected enrollment under the realignment will be 415.

New district boundaries haven't yet been finalized, but Ash Creek will likely serve households west of Gun Club Road and north of Monmouth Street in Independence, and north of Main Street in Monmouth, Maloney said.

The process for re-aligning the elementary school boundaries will start in the fall.

"We will seek input from the community in that discussion, Maloney said. "The change is an emotional issue."

Families currently at the edge of elementary school boundaries may have to send their kids to different schools in 2008, while some staff and teachers will move to Ash Creek to accommodate the extra grade.

"Throughout the process for (the reconfiguration), what I've heard from many is that they don't like the idea, but that it's probably the right one," Hunter said.

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