Chatham considering grade shifts in schools to save money

Posted January 26, 2011

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— Nicholas Guariglia likes to spend his days buried in books, but lately he's creating a story of his own.

At age 12, the seventh-grade Silk Hope Elementary School student is leading the charge among his friends to keep the K-8 grade configuration at his school the same.

"It would just lose, like, a sense of family,” Guartiglia said. “Like, you get to show your little brother what you are doing. It’s kind of just a sense of family.”

“It’s being talked about a lot,” he added. “Kids are writing letters.”

"It's the community,” said his mother, Sharon Guariglia. “The teachers live in the community. You know everybody around here. It's so small that everybody knows everybody."

Part of that closeness has to do with the size of Silk Hope. Schools with grades K-8 in Chatham County are generally smaller, around 300 to 400 students, than other schools.

That's part of the problem for Chatham County Schools, which is facing a $4.5 million budget shortfall for the 2011-12 school year.

Superintendent Robert Logan says that K-8 schools cost more to run because the state provides funding based on the number of students enrolled.

To be able to give all students the same opportunities, local funds are used to hire additional teachers at the smaller schools.

“Some of the smaller schools have additional teachers that are paid for out of local money in order to create a structure so that we can offer a middle school experience,” Logan said. “We can operate the schools more efficiently if we change our grade configuration.”

Cost-saving plan could reassign Chatham students Cost-saving plan could reassign Chatham students

Currently, there are six different configurations, including three for elementary schools – one is a K-4 school, four are K-5 schools and five are K-8 schools.

A proposal that Logan plans to submit to the Chatham County Schools Board of Education next month would reconfigure schools so that there would be nine K-5 elementary schools and four 6-8 middle schools.

About 940 of the district’s 7,800 students would be reassigned.

The change, Logan says, could save the school system anywhere from $675,000 to $1 million as it looks at a $4.5 million budget shortfall.

“We are talking about equity of services, and we are talking about savings,” he said.

Right now, the proposal is still being studied and no decisions have been made. If the school board decides to move forward with the plan, the community would be able to weigh in first at a series of public hearings.

For parents and students, like the Guartiglia, it’s a tough sell. Many families have attended the same schools for generations.

"I hope they can reconsider, because this would be like a big blow to our community,” Nicholas Guariglia said.

And that’s not the way he wants the story to end.


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  • dquis764 Jan 27, 2011

    Someone probably looked at a bar chart and saw that teachers' salaries were the biggest expense and decided to "tackle" that "problem". My kids used to go to Northwoods and literally caught the bus at ~6am. With the price of gas rising, how can it be more cost effective to pay for increased gas, maintenance, and other expenses associated with busing kids outside of the community--not to mention having to build additional schools? And how much $ do mechanics make? Extra buses, extra gas, extra wear and tear=more gas, more insurance, more mechanical breakdowns, never-ending expenses. Maybe Chatham should try to step outside of the box and look at the possiblity of making money? Maybe rent out the school auditorium, gyms, etc. for community use? Family reunions, birthday parties, other types of community events-- could help generate some income--?

  • Bnice2 Jan 26, 2011

    There is a study out that has shown that children in K-8 schools do better academically than in middle schools for the middle school age group. I don't think saving a million dollars is worth changing this, especially when most want the K-8 to stay.

  • wdcotten2 Jan 26, 2011

    Has the Chatham County BOE not learned from the mistakes of Wake County? Community schools are the way to go! I'm against any plan that bus my kids to schools NOT nearest to our home. With a county with 707 square miles, how would longer bus routes SAVE money? There are many cuts that can be made elsewhere. How about four day weeks with longer days?

  • budpenny Jan 26, 2011

    The K-8 schools are very successful; please leave them alone. Yes, make cuts in administration (the county office) not bus drivers like was done last year. Please cut ADVID. Most schools got out of that before the budget crunch.

  • beenc2 Jan 26, 2011

    And it starts...everyone is for fiscal responsibility, slash, dash, and cut - until if affects YOU. When it's about everybody else, it's slash and burn, but when it affects you, then it becomes something else. This is why the budget is so difficult to cut. Is there fat? Sure. Are there ways to cut waste? Absolutely. But where is the line between doing the "right thing" vs doing the "cheap thing?"

  • wildcat Jan 26, 2011

    They should get rid of Sage Academy and put these kids in the regular school. Its a waste to have them there. They are graduating with the class any way. Of course last year the graduation was held at a local church which should not have been.

  • ccleoa1356 Jan 26, 2011

    In the first place there are better ways to save money and that would be more effective than to mess with something that is not broken. Silk Hope School is not broken.
    It continues to out rank other schools in the county. How many times do we have to tell politicians and yes The Superintendent is political, that community schools are better schools even K-8. If it's working leave it alone. Move on to something else. We could show them lots of ways that the Chatham County School system can cut and save money. Starting first in the administration office.

    I hope our School Board Members will listen to the citizens of the effected schools and act accordingly. Saving money is fine but not this way.

  • wildcat Jan 26, 2011

    This would be a mistake. No changes of such should be made. Do Chatham need a new superintendent? Chatham do not want to be like Raleigh......too much drama.