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Mayor’s school report falls on deaf ears

As predicted by this newspaper in an editorial early last month, Mayor Maryann Welcome’s decision to commission a study of of the town’s school system fell largely on deaf ears Monday night, as the conclusions were exactly what critics anticipated — a validation of the mayor’s belief that closing a school will be bad for the town.

Quoting studies from national organizations, Mayor Welcome, who happens to be a school teacher, said she was using “empirical evidence” to show that consolidation of students is often a losing proposition for towns, costs more money than originally anticipated and results in lower academic achievement. While those conclusions may be true in many circumstances, the mayor’s report was woefully under-researched and did not rely on local data.

The report also included a component delivered by Superintendent of Schools Tom Danehy, who used actual floor plans of Winchester’s three public school buildings to indicate which classrooms are currently being used in the system and how many students are enrolled in each school. Danehy noted that a growing amount of space has been required for special education, preschool and after-school programs in recent years, and that the school district is looking into bringing out-of-district placed students back into Winchester to cut costs and provide better services.

Danehy’s component of the school buildings study was certainly stronger than the mayor’s, but even he did not completely answer questions raised by critics. Residents noted specifically that Pearson Middle School had two extra grades as recently as two years ago, and that those students had to fit somewhere. Proponents of closing a school suggested that the data in the report was cherry-picked to support the mayor’s and the superintendent’s conclusions.

Despite the criticism, it is obvious that Winchester does not currently have “an empty school,” as has been asserted by anonymous critics of the system, and that there are good reasons for keeping all three schools open. Unfortunately, Mayor Welcome’s report did little to advance the cause of school system supporters, and may have actually turned some residents against them. Even some members of the Democratic party appeared surprised and disappointed by the mayor’s report.

In the end, the school system facilities review was an exercise in futility and an embarrassment for Welcome, who came across as one-sided and unwilling to consider opinions from her opponents. While the mayor’s commitment to Winchester children is commendable, she is not the right person to deliver the message in support of the local school system.