Community member Claire Alrich spoke at the November 21 meeting of the Katonah-Lewisboro Board of Education. A portion of her prepared remarks are reprinted here. To view her presentation, click here.
Before recommending the closure of one of our top performing elementary schools, the Task Force must by law submit an enrollment forecast. They also have an intellectual and moral obligation to be sure their analysis is of the highest quality and will guide this community responsibly. This is not just some bureaucratic “check the box” and move on exercise; this law was set in place precisely to ensure that the Board and the community have as accurate an assessment as possible of future enrollment. I am gravely concerned that the School Closure Task Force is at risk of making a crucially important decision – one which could affect our community for years to come – based on incomplete, inaccurate and even faulty data.
There are at least eight areas where Dr. Grip’s forecast is deficient, incomplete or inaccurate. In a nutshell, Dr. Grip could be off on his estimates of the incoming classes by over 30% - which could easily mean a difference between his steep decline and a 10% annual increase in enrollment – or more. The eight areas are:
1) Lack of a full cycle of historical birth to K data: Should be a minimum of 20 years history. Only 5- and 6- year birth to K averages were used.
2) Linear forecast — no “cycles” taken into account: Fails to pick up early indicators of “turn” in cycle. Note first grade class up 7% this year – first time since 2009.
3) Empty nester upside ignored: No analysis has been done to assess potential impact of “pent up supply.” Some lay estimates range between 300 and 600 homes.
4) Improper use of SAC/HU ratio (School aged children per housing unit): Stock ratio, may be overweighted for empty nesters. Does not capture likely higher ratio for children entering via new home sales.
5) Stale birth data: Only through 2011; Hurricane Sandy impact completely missed
6) Birth data may be inaccurate: [Unclear if geocoding has accurately picked up KLSD mothers giving birth in NY City and other hospitals]
7) Failure to consider impact of full day kindergarten in 2014: Unclear yet whether will attract more families; may not know results til Sept 2014.
8) No consideration of echo boomers: Needs further research; early indications are that the “echo boom” may be about to begin.
Enrollment may be starting to shift up. Our first grade class was up 7% this year – the first uptick since 2009. We may be missing key, albeit early, demographic signals. We may not be immediately poised for a wild rebound, but it is equally unrealistic and irresponsible to take Dr. Grip’s downwardly skewed data for gospel. The short answer is: we don’t know yet. We need to do more work.
If we are not ready, we are not ready. For the Board to rush a decision based on incomplete and faulty analysis is to give the impression that the BOE is fast tracking a decision without adequate review of all the relevant data.
I deeply appreciate how cost-concerned the Board is, but that does not justify making a bad decision that would almost literally throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Study after study shows that children do best in small, local schools. It’s a key part of our Katonah-Lewisboro brand: natural beauty and a great, local school system – now with full day Kindergarten (kudos to Mr. Day et al on that score).
I’d rather be right about this decision than be wrong, even to save a few hundred dollars per household. The cost of being wrong is so much greater than the apparent savings.
Finally - What if we wait one year? What do we get?
- Better, more reliable and comprehensive data upon which to base the decision.
- More “buy in” from the community, which is at risk of becoming torn apart by this process, so they can rest easy that all the complex issues have been reviewed.
- Much better visibility into how introducing full day K will impact the enrollment data. How many more [new families – name pending approval] may we have?
I would hate to see us rush in to something prematurely that would both require great sacrifice and could backfire, or - worse yet – put us on a downward spiral of repelling new families from wanting to move here and even driving out existing families who will lose confidence in the school system and in the BOE to make the right decisions for the future of their children.
This decision is profoundly important. It is historic. The Task Force - and the Board – have a legal, intellectual and moral obligation to be SURE, beyond a reasonable doubt that we have done our work responsibly and accurately.
For more information or to sign the petition, visit www.saveKLschools.org.