Several parents voiced concerns this week about the impact district realignment and the possible relocation of the Pickerington Learning Steps Preschool might have on Heritage Elementary School.
Last night, Wednesday, Oct. 16, Pickerington Local School District officials were scheduled to host the first of four community forums to discuss the possible realignment of attendance boundaries for students in grades K-6 and to review options for relocating the district's lone preschool.
Before those public discussions could begin, however, some parents of Heritage Elementary School students parents Monday, Oct. 14, said they're worried officials already have plans in place to cut Heritage's student body in half to make room for the preschool.
The result, they said, would be a substantial reduction in teachers at Heritage, and students who traditionally have attended the school would be spread to other buildings throughout the district.
Although those issues weren't scheduled to be discussed at the Oct. 14 Pickerington Board of Education meeting, several parents took the opportunity to offer opposition to any action that would significantly alter enrollment or staff at Heritage.
Samantha Frost, who said she has a son in the first grade at Heritage, said she's concerned those voices won't be heard during the upcoming realignment forums.
"I worry a little bit that the concerns we have aren't going to be able to be voiced in that time," Frost said. "We worry that if we go to one to two classrooms in each grade level we will lose things."
Frost said cutting students and staff at Heritage to make room for the preschool's relocation would inhibit collaborative learning methods teachers there have implemented, and said it would reduce the school's Parent-Teacher Organization members, thereby harming the PTO's ability to raise money for school events and materials.
She said student safety issues could arise because preschool parents would pick up their children in Heritage's playground area during recess time for Heritage students, and said Toll Gate and Violet elementary schools are better suited for the preschool because they have available classroom space, are more accessible to students with physical disabilities and have student pickup areas in front of their buildings.
"It seems like other schools in our district make more sense," she said. "They were built to receive traffic during the school day."
District officials are reviewing options for realigning grades K-6 attendance boundaries. According to administrators, realignment is needed to ease overcrowding at Sycamore Creek Elementary School, Pickerington Elementary School and the preschool.
The forums -- which are scheduled to begin begin at 6:30 p.m.. Last night's forum was planned for Sycamore Creek. Upcoming forums are Oct. 23 at Violet Elementary School, Oct. 30 at Pickerington Elementary School and Nov. 6 at Heritage.
The forums are billed by district officials as opportunities for the public to learn about overcrowding issues and provide input for the best ways to address them.
In addition to Frost, Heritage parent Mike Decker said he's heard district officials want to cut Heritage's student enrollment from about 420 to 220 in order to make room for the preschool and to receive more state funding for the preschool.
Decker focused most of his complaints on school board President Cathy Olshefski, who he referred to as the "head of the snake."
"They want to take the (preschool) and take half our kids (at Heritage) and move them throughout the district to other schools," Decker said. "(Olshefski) wants to tear this school apart.
"They want more money from the state for the (preschool)."
Olshefski denied Decker's claims during the meeting, and the school board's longest-tenured member, Lori Sanders, said no realignment or preschool relocation decisions will be made until after the community forums.
"We, collectively or individually, have not as a board discussed anything to do with the preschool," Sanders said. "(Heritage) isn't the only option.
"There have been absolutely no decisions made," she said. "The forums are important to us. They're important to look into all the options."
Last November, Pickerington Assistant Superintendent Bob Blackburn, who at that time also was the district's special education director, told the board it should consider moving the preschool from a six-room portable module at Diley Middle School to a facility that could provide for student enrollment growth.
At that time, Blackburn noted, preschool students were the only ones in the district taking classes in portable modules, and he presented several options for addressing preschool growth.
Those options, at that time, included:
•Keeping the preschool at Diley and upgrading portable classroom space.
•Relocating the preschool to Toll Gate Elementary and Toll Gate Middle School.
•Utilizing multiple elementary school buildings to house preschool students.
•Relocating the preschool to Heritage.
At that time, Blackburn said moving the preschool to Heritage would require realignment of attendance boundaries, and would impact 200 students at Heritage.
Prior to Monday's meeting, the ThisWeek Pickerington Times-Sun was contacted by Heritage PTO President Julie Bechert, who said she also opposed relocating the preschool to Heritage because it would cut regular enrollment in half, move students out of their neighborhood school and impact staffing at the school.
"We really feel like the district is being short-sided and not listening to us and not providing all the facts," Bechert said. "Heritage is a school that's working.
"Toll Gate has more than enough room, Bechert said. "They have seven open classrooms and Violet has five."
Additional information about the upcoming realignment forums is available at www.pickerington.k12.oh.us.