The Department of Education is about to close 184 schools at the end of this school year, as part of a process to redesign the public education system with a view to making better use of the funds available to the agency.
The decision was made after more than three months, during which school principals, teachers, parents, mayors, and administrators at various agency levels were consulted, said the Secretary of Education, Julia Keleher.
“It is important to acknowledge that each change we are making, many as they may seem, are all necessary to actually transform the system. If we don’t go for everything, we are only touching the surface and that won’t bring the transformation we want,” Keleher said.
The agency will soon publish the list with the names of the schools the department will close, as well as the information on schools that will absorb the students.
About 27,000 students raging from kinder garden to twelfth grade will be relocated to other schools for the next school year.
Just on the basis of what the agency would stop paying for water and electricity in these 184 schools, approximately $7.7 million per year in savings is anticipated, taking into account that Education invests some $42,000 for water and electricity in each school.
“The actual saving will come from no longer having to invest in repairing the septic tank for the fifth time in one of the schools in disrepair. But that is money we’ll later be able to use to improve the receiving school, to provide it with better equipment,” Keleher commented.
In February, the Department of Education began an analysis to determine which schools it would close this year, because the changing demographic make of the Island no longer justifies the existence of 1,297 public schools, the secretary stressed.
Currently, the system has an enrollment of 365,000 students. During the 2007-2008 school year, public schools catered to 526,565 students.
Thorough analysis. The evaluation to close the schools started with over 400 schools with low enrollment, a number later reduced to 370. Personnel from the central level and school districts visited these schools with less than 250 students to verify the condition they were in and whether they had specialized offerings and other characteristics that would justify keeping them open. Keleher said there were other schools that were added to the list, as a result of talks with mayors, teacher groups, principals, the communities, and agency personnel.
In the end, the group of 184 contains not only schools with low enrollment, but also schools with up to 300 students, but which infrastructure is in total disrepair.
Likewise, personnel from the Center of Special Education Services was consulted to ensure the needs of handicapped students and their health conditions were met. Among the closed schoolsthere are some which provided Special Education offerings, such as full time school rooms, but the secretary assured that any school that receives these students has the spaces and resources necessary to cater for them.
The last consultation took place last weekend, when 2,000 people came to the assemblies organized by the agency in the seven school districts. In each, the secretary heard the proposals and concerns from parents, teachers, and members of the community in general.
The final figure has been changing right to the last minute. Even yesterday, a morning review ended in the elimination of 4 schools from the list, said the secretary.
“This list is final and it stands, the talks are over,” held Keleher, who, notwithstanding, noted that the agency will have greater flexibility to take into consideration any new extraordinary situation which may prevent a school from being closed.
The Department of Education is not contemplating reductions in the number of employees through this round of consolidations. This is because the regular teachers from schools being closed will be relocated to the same student-receiving schools, unless the teacher requests to be placed elsewhere, added the head of Education. The same will happen with school principals, so that there may be schools with two principals next year, she added.
A total of 2,088 teachers will begin the new school year in a different school.
“By relocating teachers to other schools, we can benefit more from the ensuing individualized education,” the secretary said.
However, the official admitted that, with the relocations, the education system could require fewer temporary teachers for next year.
As a result of the moves, it’s not ruled out that some teachers may have to teach classes in a subject that is not his/her specialty. These teachers will not be penalized in their assessments for not being highly qualified to teach those courses and in the medium-term the agency will design a project in which teachers who so wish may become recertified in another subject, Keleher explained.
The secretary highlighted that she is ready for the rejection that will come as a result of closing the schools, but said that it is a necessary step to make way for the “profound changes” the largest Government agency is about to embark on.
“Even before I came, everyone had had up to here about the way the Department of Education was being run. They always talked about how it had imploded. So we are going to identify the schools whose physical infrastructure is unsafe and unsanitary. Everyone understands that to be the case but no one wanted to touch it, what I did was to address that need and I am relocating, reorganizing the system’s concept. We are making hard decisions,” said the head of Education.
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