North Platte’s top administrators are talking about merging Buffalo and Lincoln elementary schools next fall to be more efficient and provide more preschool education, causing some concerns among parents and teachers.
School Supt. Dr. Ron Hanson has recently talked with parent-teacher groups at both Buffalo and Lincoln about the possible merger. He followed up with a letter to parents, sent Thursday, Jan. 9.
In the letter, Hanson said an “open dialogue is underway with teachers, administrators and parents.”
Under the conceptual plan, grades K-5 at Buffalo would move to Lincoln next year, where there would be “three-tracks” — three classrooms per grade.
Buffalo would be converted to a pre-school for ages 3-4.
The Buffalo parent-teacher organization said the school is suffering some strain. Members addressed the school board in November about disruptions in classrooms, heightened by the number of special education students.
Students come to school with behaviors that teachers and staff have hardly seen before, the Buffalo PTO said.
In his letter to parents, Hanson confirmed that concern. He said it has escalated and must be addressed.
“Student needs for support…are a top priority of the district,” he said.
In November, Buffalo parents asked the school board for more teachers’ aides, or some “two-track” classrooms. Currently, Buffalo classrooms have 19-24 students each.
Hanson met directly with each parent-teacher group, which was appreciated. He said such problems might be lessened by merging with Lincoln, because classrooms there would have 17-20 students each, based on current enrollments.
He said the district also wants to bring younger children into preschool for early interventions.
“It’s not that more pre-schools are a bad idea,” Buffalo PTO member Mandi Schimek told the Bulletin, although she voiced another concern. An estimated 20 Buffalo students walk back and forth to school. The Lincoln and Buffalo schools are about 30 blocks apart, a distance of two miles.
In his letter, Hanson said there is a need to be more efficient, because of “recent reductions in staff at Union Pacific Railroad and the closing of several retail stores.” He added, “NPPS has experienced declining student enrollment consecutively for the past five years.”
“Another concern that has escalated and must be addressed is the number of younger school-aged children’s behavioral needs,” he said. “Student needs for support have been expressed by students, parents, staff, and administration and are a top priority of the district.”
Hanson reportedly told the two PTOs that the district needs to make a decision by April 15.
The Buffalo parents told the Bulletin they aren’t criticizing the school board and don’t have anything against Lincoln Elementary. Mostly, they want to be sure parents to have time to decide what they want to do next year, to opt their children into another school district or not.
The March 15 option enrollment deadline is approaching. Parents or legal guardians must submit an application to the school board of the option school district by then.
Among the factors in the consideration of the merger are contracts with teachers, which must be signed by April 15.
A letter from a parent at Lincoln Elementary is HERE on our Opinion page. – Editor