Editorial: A Welcome Pause in Lebanon

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Lebanon School Board’s decision last week to hold off on plans to reorganize the city’s elementary grades makes a lot of sense. What would be a major shift became widely known by the public only a couple of weeks ago, and city schools have already undergone considerable change in recent years.

Lebanon has two elementary schools — Mount Lebanon on the west side of the city and Hanover Street School next to the high school. Both currently serve students up to grade 4. The city until recently had four elementary schools, but the district sold the Sacred Heart School building and closed School Street School. A new middle school now serves all the city’s grade 5 through 8 students.

But administrators see trouble ahead. According to school district figures, the number of students at Mount Lebanon has dipped from 267 to 224 since 2011, while Hanover Street’s enrollment jumped from 282 to 381. Information presented to the School Board also noted that there are about 500 housing units that have already been approved by the city and are awaiting construction. Another 283 are in the Carter Country Club development that has been moving through Planning Board review, albeit at a snail’s pace. Since the majority of the proposed units are on the east side of the city, there’s potential for enrollments at the two elementary schools to get seriously out of balance. And yet it’s also true that building has been in the doldrums for several years, and we aren’t seeing signs of much change there. Last year a consultant predicted a small decline in district enrollment through the 2025-2026 school year.

In response to its concerns, the administration presented the idea of placing all the city’s pre-K through first-grade students at Mount Lebanon, while second through fourth grades would be at Hanover Street School. We suppose that would bring some efficiencies, although administrators haven’t yet made a compelling case. Families have another focus. In fact, several parents who spoke about the proposal said their first thought was about how a shift would affect their own child. Some Lebanon and West Lebanon families still enjoy the cozy experience of walking young children to school, or at least don’t have to hew their morning routines to school bus schedules. Administrators and School Board members ignore that reality, or the attachment to neighborhood schools, at their peril.

The School Board did vote to locate all city pre-K programs at Mount Lebanon School. Beyond that, Board Chairman Jeff Peavey said he prefers to concentrate on space needs at Hanover Street School for now, to see if something can be done about those before holding public forums about a full reorganization. In thinking small first, we think he’s probably better in touch with community sensibilities.