I f nothing else, I have to give the York City School District credit for thinking outside the box in dealing with its budget issues.
Waaaayyyy outside the box.
Maybe a bit more outside the box than some people are comfortable with.
But hey, what choice does it have?
Staring a $19 million deficit in the face and having tried just about everything they can think of to save money, it's probably tempting to grasp at straws.
One such straw is the proposal by the administration to vacate the district's two middle schools -- Edgar Fahs Smith and Hannah Penn -- and redistribute all those students among the various city elementary schools.
They say it'll save $2.6 million a year in utility, maintenance and supply costs.
So it's worth talking about.
And they've been doing a lot of talking -- district officials and parents.
The biggest concern for most folks is the idea of having older seventh- and eighth-graders going to school in the same building with first- and second-graders.
Frankly, that scares the bejesus out of most parents.
Naturally you have a bunch of people opposed to the plan, and a bunch who say they'll go along with it without too much complaint.
But let's be honest -- no one, and I mean not a single person -- would be talking about the K-8 proposal if there were any other option. Other than going bankrupt and closing down the entire school district, I mean. And what kind of option is that?
Well, actually that might not be as horrible an idea as one might think. In fact, I think I might have suggested such a thing for the city schools about 15 or 20 years ago, when things were difficult, but not as bad as they are today. I even had a map drawn to show how the city school district could be split up.
The response? A lot of cat-calls and guffaws and people telling me I'd lost my mind.
But here we are 15 or 20 years later, and it's still on the table. Let's call it the last option, the one to be seriously considered only when all the other options have been tried and failed.
It might not be as far-fetched as it seems on first blush, however. I actually had a conversation with a school board member from a neighboring district a week ago, and he suggested, without any prodding from me, that the three districts butting up against the city district -- Central, York Suburban and West York -- split up the city students among themselves.
That'd be about 2,000 or so kids going west, another 2,000 going north and another 2,000 or so heading east. He thought it might be the eventual solution to the city's financial problems. And he thought it'd be workable. Not necessarily desirable, but workable.
But like I said, that's the very last option, to be considered only after all other options have been put to bed.
In the meantime, there's this K-8 proposal to ponder.
To be honest, I don't know what to think about it. If I were a parent of school-age children living in the city, I'd be anxious. Slant it any way you want, it can't be the best idea in the world to have seventh- and eighth-graders holding court over first- and second-graders seven hours a day.
And for every expert you can find to say it's a good idea and will work just fine, I can probably find another expert who will say it's a lousy idea and doomed to failure.
At the same time, however, I have to admit that in the early- '60s, when I was a seventh-grader, there was no middle school or junior high school in the West York Area School District. Seventh- and eighth-graders went to the high school with ninth- through 12th-graders.
Thinking back on it, it wasn't so horrible. In fact, I think it worked out fine.
But those were different times. I'm not so sure it'd work as well today.
I understand parents being concerned, even reluctant, about the proposal. Truth be known, I'll bet administrators and teachers are feeling some of that, too.
But it's either that or have your school property taxes double.
That doesn't go down so well, either.
So maybe we should just accept it for what it is -- a last resort.
Like a lot of things in life, we don't necessarily have to like it ... just deal with it.
A final grasp at perhaps the final straw.
Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.