The proposal to merge Great Falls Middle and High schools with Lewisville schools never got the reasoned debate it should have had. With so little information provided regarding the pros and cons of the proposal, it's no wonder the Chester County school board decided to back away from the idea.
Anyone with a passing interest in the fortunes of the county's schools could have predicted that a proposal to shut down schools in Great Falls and bus the students to Lewisville would raise the hackles of residents in both towns. Nonetheless, the school board simply rolled out the plan without much effort to prepare either community.
It was no surprise when Great Falls erupted at the news.
Granted, the board had scheduled public hearings to discuss the proposal -- after it had been introduced. The board might have had a more subdued reception if it had held meetings to gauge the mood of the community before announcing a plan.
Once the board had launched the merger proposal, board members and district officials offered precious little information regarding why they thought this might be a good idea. The board did estimate that closing the two Great Falls schools would save an estimated $1.7 million to $1.8 million, mostly as a result of laying off 40 teachers.
But what about the cost of transporting Great Falls students to Lewisville? What about the cost of adding portable classrooms on the Lewisville campuses? What would the new student-teacher ratio be? What about questions as mundane as whether the Lewisville cafeterias could accommodate the extra students?
The plan might have produced some benefits for students. With more students at Lewisville Middle and High schools, the schools might have been able to increase the number of classes and programs offered because of higher demand. The district might also have saved on energy and personnel costs.
But without facts and figures, an informed decision was impossible. The school board, no doubt, learned that if it plans to roll out a merger proposal again, it needs to have a fully developed plan with cost factors figured in from the start.
The district also should have learned that both Great Falls and Lewisville are passionate about their schools. The schools are part of the fabric of the community, institutions that date back decades, and the towns are not going to give up on their schools without a compelling reason to do so.
The school district fell well short of providing that reason. It had little choice but to scrap the merger plan.