Election Opinion Schools / Kids

Smith: South Orange-Maplewood Must Make Facilities Planning a Priority

Editor’s note: Donna Smith is running for re-election in the 2017 Board of Education race.

Another one of my top priorities is addressing our facilities, from overcrowding to aging buildings to out-of-date classroom setups. We need a facilities plan that will finally take care of a tremendous amount of deferred maintenance throughout the School District. We also need to address the matter of increased student populations, particularly in the elementary schools.

The demographer estimates a need for 26 additional classrooms at the elementary level and has noted that the portables in many cases are close to reaching their shelf life. Moreover, socio-economic disparities between the various elementary schools and de-facto segregation also must be addressed while we look for more classroom space.

The Administration will need to bring forth recommendations quickly for board consideration—whether to build a new building, add on to existing buildings, change the school zones, and/or pair schools. The District is going to have to think creatively, considering all options, such as developing more than one magnet school. All of this must be considered along with the Board’s desire for equity and to have each elementary school population be representative of our town’s diversity.

Further, the space at the high school needs re-imagining. The last efforts to alter the high school space stalled with the rejection of a new, highly expensive pool. We must bring the high school classrooms into the 21st century as soon as possible. Let’s dust off the old plans as a starting point to see what can be accomplished now. Throughout the process, the Board must ensure that these issues are addressed transparently, with maximum community input, and in a fiscally responsible manner.

The District will begin this process of shoring up the infrastructure and providing new space during the tenure of the Interim Superintendent, but the work will continue once a new Superintendent is in place. The search for a new Superintendent is among the most important tasks for the Board of Education. In that search we must find a Superintendent who can focus on this issue as a priority while also managing the many other areas of concern our district is facing.

Donna Smith
Member, South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education

The views expressed are my own and do not represent the position of the Board.

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