By GAIL LOWE
WAKEFIELD — Because one member was absent, the school board was evenly split during a vote last night on what to do with the Greenwood and Walton schools and, as a result, next month’s Town Meeting will not be asked to spend money on feasibility studies at the aging elementary education facilities.
The school board, dealing with the absence of Evan Kenney, deadlocked 3-3 and will not to move forward with a plan to see what options exist for the Greenwood and Walton. School board members Janine Cook, Kate Morgan and Thomas Markham III were opposed to a feasibility study of the two schools because they felt educational leaders were asking for too much.
Members, however, did vote to enlist the services of an architect and engineer to perform a feasibility study of the high school, some parts of which are at least 54 years old. The measure will be placed on the Nov. 17 Town Meeting warrant.
This particular agenda item produced a good deal of discussion before the vote was taken.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Stephen K. Zrike emphasized that upgrading the high school is a top priority; a priority he wants the entire community to be engaged in before any decisions are made.
Markham cautioned school board members, however, that they were “undoing what we voted for three years in a row.”
Markham explained that school administrators and the budget subcommittee, which he chairs, have been planning the elimination of kindergarten fees and incorporating a universal fee-free kindergarten for all students. If such a program is established, however, revenue will be lost to the town and taxpayers will pick up the cost.
“It’s the cost of a feasibility study I’m concerned with,” said Markham. “How much are we going to ask the taxpayer to fund? We’ve asked for money for the Galvin Middle School, athletic fields and new technology. We’ve created new programs regarding literacy. A full-day kindergarten would also fall on the backs of the taxpayer,” he said.
“Before we, as a community, go down this path of eliminating a neighborhood school we need to do it in the light of day,” Markham said. “We need to understand how we’re delivering education to students who live on the West Side and in Greenwood.”
Markham added that architects and engineers hired to perform a feasibility study cannot address the delivery system of education.
“We need to be mindful of what we are asking from taxpayers,” he added. “There’s an open price tag.”
Gregory Liakos agreed, pointing out that the possibility of combining the Greenwood and Walton schools would mean the end of students attending a neighborhood school.
Still, something has to be done, said Dr. Zrike. “It would be negligent not to explore and address outdated schools,” he said.
Feasibility studies come with hefty price tags. In 2010, a feasibility study for the new Galvin Middle School cost well over a half million dollars. The study took place over an 18-month period and a project manager was hired to oversee the project at a salary of about $90,000.
Callanan said members need to keep an open mind and he got backing from Anne Danehy who said that results of a feasibility study would only include prices and options.
As the discussion continued, Liakos said that a feasibility study would “enhance talks about a new high school.”
Markham again stressed that there is a need is to establish an educational model for elementary schools before talking about “brick and mortar.” He praised the work of the Facilities Task Force, a team appointed by Dr. Zrike in January, to take stock of what is needed in the town’s schools.
“I’m not trying to stop the conversation,” Markham said. “I want it to flourish but everyone needs to chime in. I’m concerned about putting the cart before the horse. At some point it will come down to money.”
Danehy pointed out that needs at the Greenwood School have been talked about for the past 17 years.”
“It’s been far too long,” she said. “We should not say ‘let’s not bring it to the people.’ There are lots of issues at the Greenwood. Let the committee decide.”