New Castle News

New Castle

November 20, 2012

EDITORIAL: Questionable communication New Castle school district requires constructive dialogue

NEW CASTLE — At this point, the Lockley Early Learning Center project appears to be a process, rather than a controversy.

The New Castle school board voted unanimously last week to proceed with the project, which will create an expanded elementary school at the city’s Lockley site, while closing other elementaries.

The board’s unity on the matter is, of course, misleading. This is a deeply divided panel, as the previous vote on this project showed. And we think it’s safe to say the differences on the board aren’t limited to this particular construction plan.

At an Oct. 25 meeting, the board voted 5-4 against moving forward with the Lockley initiative. That move produced an eruption of anger and accusations, culminating in superintendent George Gabriel submitting a retirement letter, which was accepted.

But after a contentious meeting the following week, where visitors demanded the project be saved, the board reversed course. A major factor was the realization that the district would forfeit $9 million in local funds to deal with the consequences of canceling a bond issue.

That information, however, was available previously to anyone who wanted to fully examine the consequences of abandoning the project. Yet there was no discussion or questioning within the board on this point. Instead, there was just a lot of yelling.

We understand there have been differences of opinion surrounding the Lockley project and whether it would be cost effective over the long term. Advocates have argued that closing schools and reducing staff would produce savings, even with construction expenses. Critics have questioned the fiscal wisdom of a new building in a financially struggling district where property values are eroding and the student population continues a long decline.

There is nothing wrong with holding conflicting views on a school board. In many ways, it can be quite healthy if it advances the dialogue.

But one gets the sense there hasn’t been much dialogue across the gulf in the New Castle school system — at least not the constructive sort. And without a positive give and take regarding differences, what the district has instead is distrust, disrespect and a dismal level of basic communication.

This needs to change. Even with the Lockley construction vote in the rearview mirror, decisions still will have to be made on the project.

What’s more, the district now must contend with the crucial decision of identifying a new superintendent. Such a move holds the potential for great opportunity. But it also holds the potential for great pitfalls in a district that has communication problems.

This is an important time in the New Castle school district. All board members must step up and conduct themselves in a manner that reflects what’s at stake.

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