Friday, February 22, 2008

Should we really close Belisle?

This coming September the Fall River School Department will open the new Slade School in the city's South End. It's one of 3 new, '650-student capacity' schools that the city will be opening in the Fall.


With the opening of the new Slade the School Department is proposing that 4 schools in this section of the city be closed: Fowler, Healy, Osborne, and the Hector L. Belisle. Certainly as we open these newer, larger schools we have to close the older schools that populate our city. However by closing these 4 schools the school department is projecting opening up the new Slade with an enrollment of 648 students, just 2 less than capacity. School Department officials say that they are unable to shift any of these students to the Doran, the only other school proposed to remain open in the South End, because it is close to capacity with an enrollment of over 400 students.


New homes and condos have been constructed in the area and the recent housing boom has replaced retirees with young couples starting or raising families. Is it only matter of a few years before we see a sizable increase in school aged children in this part of the city? Having 2 schools serve the Central and South Zone, and have both operating at near capacity seems shortsighted. You would think that there would be some sort of long term plan that would take into consideration the future need for classrooms and there was. A committee was formed to create a Master Building Oversight Plan. This committee, which issued its final report in April of 2002 recommended that with the construction of new schools that 5 existing building be renovated and expanded. Hector L. Belisle School is one of those 5 schools.


The Belisle School was built circa 1950, it is a single unit school, with a current enrollment of 111 students. It could easily house 150-170 students. Unlike many of the pre-WWI schools in the city, the Belisle has a dedicated nurses office and cafatorium (a multipurpose room that is used as a gymnasium, cafeteria, and an auditorium.) The school sits back from the street on a lot of land that is roomy enough to allow for both staff parking and outdoor activities. A future expansion to a double unit school, (2 classrooms per grade) would increase capacity to probably just under 350 students.


If Belisle were to remain open the enrollment of the new Slade would fall to just under 540 students but could fall to as low as 500 students. Let's take a closer look at this. The new Slade is listed as a 3-4 unit school. Again, a single unit has one class for each grade level, so a 4 unit has 4 classes for each grade level. The new Slade is a K-5 school, at 4 units per grade that means there would be 24 total units in the school. An enrollment of 648 students divided by 24 would result in 27 children per classroom. That is a lot of children! By keeping Belisle open classroom size drops to under 24 children per class at Slade. IF we could increase enrollment at Belisle to 132 students both Belisle and Slade would have roughly 22 children per class. If, as the experts state, classroom size is so important wouldn't this make sense?


There is of course, the argument that as a small single unit school Belisle is unable to offer to its students and staff the amenities and services of the new larger schools. Also some believe that teachers at a single unit school are at a disadvantage because they have no peer to relate to. These are certainly points worth considering. However, historically our schools that have performed best on the MCAS tests have often been these small one unit schools showing that these obstacles can be overcome.

Why close Belisle when doing so goes against the city's own long term plan and doing so leaves only 2 'near capacity' schools to serve this area of the city? The School Department cheerfully speaks of making the new schools accessible to as many children as possible but is that the only motive?

It seems money is playing a key role in deciding Belisle's fate. Plans to expand or renovate are in jeopardy because the state is no longer reimbursing those costs under the School Building Assistance Program. Also it's clear the that School Department has decided to close Belisle as a cost savings maneuver.

Keeping Belisle open means smaller classroom sizes at the new Slade school. It means having the ability to accommodate an increase in enrollment in the Central/South zone. It means meeting future needs by having a facility that can be expanded. And if the state funding to renovate or expand Belisle no longer exists we should push for our local delegation to restore such funding and not abandon our long term plans. We really need to ask ourselves, should we really close Belisle?

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I attended the Belisle School in the 60s ... followed by Healey and Slade schools, home ec at the Osborn School, the horrifying "old" Henry Lord Junior High School, and the underwhelming "new" Durfee High School. (I then went away to college and left the city, but continue to check in once in a while ... and continue to care about the children whose future is being shaped by its public schools.) Of this rich pageant of public schools, Belisle BY FAR stands out in my memory as the best. Unlike all of the other schools mentioned above, it was clean, well-managed (and of a manageable size!), with big, light-filled classrooms and a spacious playground. For these reasons ... and because the children in the neighborhoods around the Belisle live a significant distance from Slade ... I think the school (which isn't that old, being built in 1950, and by all accounts seems to be in good repair)should be kept open. I don't know about the Fowler, but I can vouch for the fact that kids won't be missing much if they don't go to the Osborn or Healey schools. They needed significant work 30 years ago, and I can only imagine what they're like today.

Anonymous said...

Lets look at the WHOLE picture

1) Does the city plan to lay off the staff of the schools that are closing or just reassign them to a different location ?

If the staff stays then the only savings is on the buildings

2)What does the city plan to do with the OLD schools ?

In my city they sold the buildings and they were turned into condos

$$ from the sale
$$ from property tax

If it is true that the new school will only have TWO open seats then it is obvious that they intend on going over capacity

What does the teacher's contract state on maximum class size ?

Lefty said...

Anon(11:26),

Believe me I am looking at the whole picture.

If Belisle were to close it's staff would be reassigned to other schools, possibly the new Slade.

The city's long term plan recommends Belisle stay open. Closing it goes against the plan and results in the only 2 schools in the Central/South zone being run at near capacity.

I believe that a classroom can hold 30 or 33 students before a mandatory teacher's aide would be required.

The 2002 school plan suggested that many of the closed schools could be used for purposes such as alternate education, storage, administrative, etc. It also suggested that neighborhood groups should be created to help determine what to do with these buildings.

What to do with these buildings is something that I've thought about for awhile and plan on doing a future blog post on. I love many of these old schools but realize for many reasons that we need to move forward.

The purpose of this post is really more about if closing Belisle makes sense. After reviewing the long term plan and the School Department proposal I don't believe that it does.

Anonymous said...

this is off topic but i couldn't figure out how else to bring this to your attention. i just emailed the following to mayor correia:

dear mayor correia:

following the second "big" snow in december, there had been several reports on local news of people being hit and killed by motor vehicles because people were walking in the street as a result of lack of sidewalk access due to snow on those sidewalks, that saturday, when i drove down route 81 south between laurel street (by your citgo station) and the sovereign bank in the "strip mall" which also contains staples, there were people walking in the street BECAUSE THE SIDEWALKS (abutting commercial businesses) WERE NOT CLEARED, including, most frighteningly, a mother pushing a baby carriage accompanied by three children between the ages of approximately five and ten years. i have lived in fall river for six years now and every winter it has been the same -- the businesses in this area are quick to plow their parking lots but the vast majority not only do not clear the abutting sidewalks but in the majority of cases the snow cleared from the parking lots is pushed ONTO the sidewalks.

the monday following i contacted the fall river dpw to inquire about enforcement of snow removal from sidewalks abutting commercial businesses. unfortunately, i do not remember and cannot find a written note of the name of the person i spoke with. however, the dpw person was unaware of any inspection/enforcement of city ordinances with regard to snow removal from sidewalks abutting commercial businesses. the person i spoke to asked me if i had notified any of the businesses that they were failing in their snow-removal responsibilities. i had not - as you probably know there are dozens of businesses in this area, many of whom share abutment of public sidewalks. it simply is not practical for me to attempt to contact the manager/owner of every business. below it will become clear how very impractical such a pursuit would be.

after the next snow following my call to dpw, i was walking down route 81 south (along behind the laurel lake school to faneek's hot dogs). munroe muffler is just past the school and those sidewalks were not cleared and quite difficult to navigate (additional snow had been pushed up onto it by the snowplows). many people would have chosen to walk in the street rather than attempt to stay on the sidewalk area. i went into the munroe muffler and asked for the manager. when i asked him why his sidewalks were not cleared, his response was "what sidewalks." he seemed completely unaware that the business had any responsibility for clearing abutting public sidewalks and quite irritated that i should suggest that he had such a responsibility.

yesterday i was walking my dogs over to lou's bakery and back, walking up montaup street from dwelly on my return trip. the national guard seems to have not gotten the memo about sidewalk snow removal either as neither the sidewalk abutting their property on dwelly street nor that abutting their property on montaup street had been cleared after the snow on friday. the gate was open, there was a private car parked near the door, so i went in, first knocking on the outside door and then, when i got no response, i turned the handle and the door opened and i stuck my head in. the outer office was empty of human beings, so i shouted to make my presence known. it took a longer time for anyone to respond than one would expect considering that they have quite a bit of computer and office equipment sitting in that room, but two "gentlemen" finally appeared. i asked them why the sidewalk had not been cleared although their parking lot had been plowed. the initial response was the same as the response i received from the manager at munroe muffler - "what sidewalk" but i was finally told by the "gentleman" that seemed to be in charge that it wasn't their problem, that he had "contacted the state" (whatever that is supposed to mean -- he was quite incensed when i asked him what that meant). as i was leaving the property i asked the man his name and he identified himself as the manager of the facility (i don't remember his name but he pointed to it on the sign on the front of the building). he was very angry that i was making the inquiry and followed me out to the gate which he quickly shut as i exited so as to prevent any further inconvenient questions.

i trust the impracticality of my contacting each individual business is now apparent -- these people are not only not aware that they have an obligation to clear the abutting sidewalks, they don't even realize they HAVE abutting sidewalks. this is unfortunate because there are a lot of pedestrians in this area who are endangered by this lack of enforcement, including myself. many people walk from nearby areas to the shopping areas along route 81, including many children on their own and with parents. i normally walk to these businesses myself but when there is more than a smattering of snow, i drive the two or three blocks because of the impassability of the sidewalks over such great stretches that abut commercial businesses. the length of tucker street which abuts the "strip mall" containing, among others, the CVS, as well as across the street (new england house of pizza, that furniture rental place, etc) not only do the sidewalks not get cleared but additional snow is pushed onto them when the parking lots are plowed.

the majority of sidewalks which abut residential properties are regularly and promptly cleared of snow. there are a few residential properties which routinely do not clear the snow from abutting sidewalks and a few which clear only a very narrow lane but for the most part owners of residential properties do what they are supposed to do -- they clear the sidewalks promptly. they have clearly "gotten the memo." the snow issues regarding residential properties generally are at corners where the plows push snow up out of the street making it difficult for them to be kept navigable (which is unfortunate as it renders the clearing of the sidewalks themselves something of a moot point). i have heard third-hand stories of residential owners being "ticketed" $50 for throwing snow into the street but i have never heard of a business being cited for failing to remove snow from abutting sidewalks. and clearly they have not either, as my two examples (monroe muffler and the national guard) demonstrate.

what are the city ordinances with respect to snow clearance from public sidewalks? who is supposed to enforce these ordinances and why does there appear to be no knowledge of any inspection/enforcement by the dpw? apparently the police do not have this on their radar as a public safety hazard as they directed me to call the dpw when i called the police "business" line to make inquiry about sidewalk snow clearance by commercial businesses, because the police person with whom i spoke claimed the police have no responsibility for such enforcement.
i do not want you to think that i am not necessarily faulting dpw. this has been an ongoing problem that the city government is (bizarrely) unaware of. having lived other places, i well understand that commercial businesses are notoriously lax in sidewalk snow clearance, but however that may be, now that it has been brought to your attention, i expect that things will be different next winter.

next winter i trust we will have a very different picture here in fall river -- ALL sidewalks will be cleared of snow in a timely manner, whether those abutting residential or commercial properties; or, in the rare instance there is a failure, when i call dpw to report said failure, my call will be met by "wow, our inspector must be asleep, i'll send him/her down immediately!" instead of the "gee, i don't know anything about this" that i got this year upon calling the dpw.

thank you for your attention to this matter.

karen nevins
265 laurel street
fall river, ma 02724

p.s., i am going to distribute the above to as many fall river outlets as i can manage in order to make others aware of this important public safety issue.

Lefty said...

Karen,

Thanks for the comment. I'm very curious what response, if any, you get from the Mayor's office. I would appreciate your keeping me in the loop on this.

You can email me at aviewfrombattleshipcove@gmail.com

Thanks,
Lefty

Anonymous said...

Why does mark costa and the Herald News continue to claim that he (Costa) found appropriations to keep Belisle open?? This is simply not true. If Will Richmond had any journalistic integrity, he would have checked his facts prior to printing them in today's paper. As I recall it was Kevin Aguiar that printed a proposal at that final school comitee meeting, that listed where the money was hidden. After a round of clarification, which I personnaly observed Aguiar grilling admin people at (i believe) the greene school, Costa after the money was discovered, by Aguiar et al, quickly made the motion to keep Belisle open with the savings found by his colleagues. And that lazy Kerry Rodrigues continues to state that some people don't read the school budget. Maybe she should watch,listen, and read other political outlets other than her own!!!!!! I'll only listen to the Barry show now. I feel smarter every day that i don't listen to her show!

Know It All said...

The school is closing
The school is NOT closing

Make up your mind ...This all come down to EMPTY Seats ...If the School Dept. figures that they have enough seats in the SYSTEM then they will close the schools ...If not then they will some how FIND the $$$$$ to keep them open

I have gone through this in my city and NO MATTER WHAT YOU ARE TOLD the only thing that matters is SEATS

Are the seats empty or full and what will they need for seats over the next couple of years

Anonymous said...

Mark Costa likes to take credit for alot. He will say that he made a statement that the Belisle School should be kept open.
If one listened very hard perhaps one might have heard that but the statement was made with so little conviction that it was hard to believe that he believed it.
One wonders if it had been his children's school if he would have been so quiet about it.
Again the South end of the city is left with no choices. East end North end the parents can choose a small school setting of a larger new school. It is not one size fits all.