WEST SENECA, N.Y. - The issue of school consolidation has crept into yet another school district in Western New York.
This time, West Seneca Central Schools is proposing to close an elementary school next year and introduce sixth graders into the middle school.
At a school meeting Thursday, many families spoke out against the plan.
West Seneca school officials say moving some elementary students in the district is the best way to protect popular programs, sports and to educate their students. The district is like most, if not all schools, getting fewer dollars in aid and looking to save cash.
"Now we're at a point where thresholds have finally caught up to us, we've got to do something intelligent about our future," said Mark Crawford, the superintendent of West Seneca Schools.
The district houses seventh and eighth graders at two middle schools, East Middle and West Middle. There are seven elementary schools in the district. The consolidation calls for each elementary sixth grade to merge into the middle schools at the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year.
"I think they're going to be more overcrowded, I think they're going to be more competitive," said Anne Janowski, president of the Allendale Elementary PTA.
Parents like April Petrik, who's son is in fifth grade, are concerned that consolidation will jam too many students into classrooms. She says about 18 students were in Nathan's class, now 25 are.
"From a mother's perspective, less time with the kids individually, the kids who need extra help, they won't be getting it," she said.
"Since there isn't enough room for the assigned cafeteria tables, we have to go to other classrooms to like, do work," said Nathan Petrik, April's son.
And this is the consensus among many of families. On Thursday, hundreds of parents packed a school auditorium to find out what the future will be for their children. They spoke passionately about East Elementary, which could close. If consolidation is not done, school officials warn that major cuts to sports, academics and staff would likely follow.
The plan will head next to board members at the end of the month for a vote.
The district is facing a $7.5 million shortfall and leaders say no one wants to merge students and close a school.
Parents add that this plan comes as a shock, they've heard of possible budget cutbacks, but didn't know it was this bad.
School officials add that there's a trend of combining sixth grade with middle schools and that 27 other middle schools in the region have done this.