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Suski supports grades K-3 at Fink and Kunkel, with 4th and 5th at Reid, in hybrid school plan

By Laura Hayes

laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 2/21/20

Middletown Area School District Superintendent Lori Suski supports placing students in kindergarten through third grade at Kunkel and Fink elementary schools and making Reid into an intermediate …

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Suski supports grades K-3 at Fink and Kunkel, with 4th and 5th at Reid, in hybrid school plan

Kunkel, Fink and Reid elementary schools
Kunkel, Fink and Reid elementary schools
Posted

Middletown Area School District Superintendent Lori Suski supports placing students in kindergarten through third grade at Kunkel and Fink elementary schools and making Reid into an intermediate school for fourth- and fifth-graders to help handle a projected enrollment spike.

She made her recommendation at the district’s school board meeting Feb, 18.

No school board member made any public comment after Suski spoke.

MASD recently hired the firm DecisionInsite to examine future enrollment, and the company found there will be an increase of 165 elementary students by 2024.

Suski said the increase will not be in one grade level, and that the district could handle the increase without a new school. Completion of up to 290 new single-family dwellings in Middletown’s Woodland Hills development is a major factor in the growth. 

Suski’s support is for the hybrid model, one of four elementary configurations proposed by MASD. It would require comprehensive renovations and additions to Fink, comprehensive renovations to Kunkel, and minor renovations to Reid. It is estimated to cost $33.4 million to $36.3 million.

The other options are:

• Center-based model. Close Kunkel and Fink. Construct new building for all students in grades 2 through 5 on district campus behind middle school or on Kunkel site. Convert Reid to grades K-1 with minor building renovations. Estimated cost of $34.9 million to $37.3 million.

• Neighborhood School Concept. Maintain district’s current K-5 structure with comprehensive renovations and additions at Kunkel. Comprehensive renovations at Fink, minor renovations to Reid. Estimated costs of $35.66 million to $38.68 million.

• Neighborhood School Concept. Maintain district’s current K-5 structure with comprehensive renovations and additions at Fink. Comprehensive renovations at Kunkel, minor renovations to Reid. Estimated cost of $33.7 million to $36.6 million.

The hybrid model “provides the best logistical framework to develop our educational model,” Suski told the school board.

Suski said having Kunkel and Fink on opposite ends of the district gives a “neighborhood feel” to the schools, and the students have time to build relationships because they would spend four years in the building.

Kunkel is located on Fulling Mill Road. Fink is on North Race Street.

An intermediate school for grades four and five at Reid would help students transition from elementary to middle school, she said. Reid is located on the district’s school campus off North Union Street between the middle school and high school.

“The middle school has been facing increased issues with student conduct. Incidents have stemmed from students just meeting up with same-aged peers at MAMS for the first time,” Suski said.

When Reid opened in 2003, it and Kunkel housed grades kindergarten through four, and fifth-graders were at Fink. Suski said in 2007, the school board wanted to return to the neighborhood model when the new middle school opened.

She said back then, Fink was a “training ground” for students to be together before going into the middle school, and administrators and teacher thought students were better prepared to enter the middle school.

A new school isn’t necessarily the solution, because of a lack of proof that a centers-based model would be better educationally, she said.

However, Suski said if the cost to upgrade Kunkel and Fink is more than the cost of a new school, then new construction might be a better investment.

In an email, MASD Chief Financial Officer David Franklin said it was likely that an elementary project would require issuing a bond or note. How much the district borrows would factor into whether a tax increase is needed, he said. The district would update its financial study when a project is determined to see the actual impact on taxes, he said.

He said $7 million in the general fund has been committed for debt service stabilization, which could be used to make interest or principal payments.

“This would limit an increase in taxes. In previous financial studies, the amount of funds that have been committed were not expected to be enough to avoid the need for a tax increase, but they would reduce the amount of a tax increase,” Franklin said.

Not much stock in survey

Suski’s recommendation came on the heels of a survey of district parents and residents in which 427 people responded.

The results were presented prior to Suski’s support of the hybrid model. Just more than 50 percent of respondents said they favored the current neighborhood model, but when they were asked if they supported constructing a new school, over 60 percent said yes.

When asked to pick between the four models (or none of the above), the hybrid option received the most support (just less than 30 percent), followed by building a new school, and then additions at Kunkel and then Fink.

“As I said previously, I don’t put a ton of stock in the perceptual data because, again, we have no idea who the people were that were taking the survey,” Suski said. “Again, it was open to the public. It could’ve been anybody taking the survey. I’m not sure how well-informed people have been throughout the last year-and-a-half that we have been having these conversations.”

Fall changes?

If the hybrid model is the path the district takes, some changes could start this fall, she said.

To allow for renovations at Reid, Suski said in the short-term, fifth-graders could be moved to Fink, which has lockers and could house 10 classrooms of fifth-graders. She said that change could take effect next year.

That would free up space at Reid and Kunkel for grades kindergarten through fourth grade.

“This would give the board some time to plan to phase in millage for renovations to address both Kunkel’s and Fink’s aging mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems as well as room replacement,” Suski said.

Other options

The benefits of the centers-based model, Suski said, include savings for staffing and being able to design space for new programs.

One con, she said, is a new school would house more students than the high school or middle school.

She said it wasn’t “prudent” to start a construction project on the campus without having a traffic study, which she estimated could cost up to $35,000 and require additional entrances, exits, lights and traffic patterns.

As far as the neighborhood school options, Suski said the variation that calls for an addition at Kunkel might be eligible for state reimbursement, but Suski said it was the most expensive option and not the best option in terms of operations and staffing.

The other neighborhood school option calls for an expansion at Fink, which Suski said would require changes to school boundaries. Students who live in the Old Reliance housing development would be sent to Reid, but some of those families purchased their homes so their children could attend Kunkel.