Parkway, Rockwood move closer to community education partnership
By: Carol Enright
Last spring, West Newsmagazine reported that the Parkway and Rockwood school districts had begun talking about combining their community education programs to serve the more than 250,000 patrons in both districts. At the September Parkway Board of Education meeting, Paul Tandy, Parkway’s communications director, reported that talks had progressed to the point that he and Rockwood’s community education director, Mike Seppi, could present a formal recommendation to both school boards in October.
The motivating force behind the potential team-up is a desire to reduce operational costs, streamline redundancies and bolster program offerings.
“One of the current realities we have in the area of community education is that both Parkway and Rockwood … predict a flat to overall decline in the enrollment in our programs,” Tandy said.
Parkway and Rockwood are hoping to combat that decline by joining forces.
Tandy noted, “We have over a quarter million people in both school districts. That’s a much larger capacity to sustain programs long term.”
He said the larger pool of potential customers would afford the new program “much more flexibility, over time, to weather the storms – the ups and downs – and much more flexibility to add or change programming to suit the needs of the patrons.”
Each district hopes to capitalize on the particular strengths the other. As an example, Parkway has very strong adult enrichment offerings, while Rockwood offers many more recreational sports programs.
Should the partnership go forward, one of the first new offerings for Parkway residents would be recreational basketball for youth.
Both community education programs are self-supporting. One key difference is that Rockwood has a dedicated community education staff. Parkway runs its program through various employees who handle community education programming in addition to their regular jobs. For this reason, Tandy said it makes sense for Rockwood to be the program’s fiscal agent.
Some Parkway residents voiced concerns about the proposed partnership.
Merle Oberman, literacy coordinator for Parkway’s Adult Education & Literacy (AEL) program, said she didn’t “understand the advantage, financial or otherwise, to the Parkway School District” of bringing the two adult education programs together. Oberman said that while Parkway’s AEL program has been associated with the district for 43 years, unlike Rockwood’s, it is not part of the district’s community education program. She also noted that Parkway’s AEL program served 2,300 students last year, while Rockwood’s served only 220.
Pat Orf, Parkway swim club booster board president, came to the meeting with a small contingent of Parkway swim club families concerned that the partnership might result in the merger of the Parkway and Rockwood swim clubs. She said both clubs have distinct cultures, coaching styles and financial structures.
“We believe with this merger there is the possibility that Parkway will be subjected to the rules that govern the salaries and operational procedures of the Rockwood swim club,” Orf told the Board.
She said that if the club lost its autonomy, it would risk losing swimmers and coaches.
“To put it bluntly,” said Orf, “our coaches would be looking for new jobs.”
Tandy made it clear that neither district has any intention of merging the two clubs. He also singled out AEL as another program that is “different” from other community education programs and would retain its autonomy.
After the meeting, Orf said the club planned to work closely with those involved in structuring the community education partnership.
“We’re hoping to put some kind of a legal document in line that says that the Parkway swim club will remain its own entity,” she said.
If both school boards approve the partnership, new programming would begin in the 2013-2014 school year.