Closing an elementary school to save money isn’t a new idea in Saugerties, but the Board of Education has never officially tackled the question. Until now.
At its Feb. 8 meeting, the School Board authorized Superintendent Seth Turner to form a local committee to look at the best-use of the district facilities, a process that will involve considering the feasibility of closing one of the district’s elementary schools.
The study would not affect operations for the 2011-12 school year, said Turner.
With the centrally located Cahill Elementary pretty much off the table, possible candidates include Grant D. Morse, which serves the northern and western part of the town, Mt. Marion, which serves the southern and western part, or Riccardi, which covers Glasco and Barclay Heights.
The study will be conducted in-house at no cost to the district. The committee members have not yet been named by the superintendent. If the committee concludes that closing a school is feasible and would provide savings, professional consultants may be called in to articulate the finer points. A similar study in Kingston recently cost over $36,000.
The main factors are enrollment, capacity, transportation and building condition. Special education is also a concern, and something of a wild card, since more staff and space are needed per student and it’s difficult to predict enrollment from year to year. If the district is unable to provide the necessary space for students with special needs, those students may have to be sent out of the district, increasing tuition and transportation costs. Turner said any talk of closing a building should take that into account, as well as possible revenue opportunities that could come from accepting students from other districts.
“Other districts are contemplating closing,” said Turner. “Well, I want to put up a sign that says we’re open for business. If you want to close a school in New Paltz, if you want to close a school in Rondout, if you want to close a school in Kingston, let us know. I’d like that revenue stream, and I’d like to educate my kids here in my neighborhood, in my backyard, not somewhere else.”
The committee will also consider the repairs needed at each building. According to School Board Vice President Tom Ham, chair of the facilities committee, each building has problems, and each is in need of major repairs. These include improvements to the septic system at Mount Marion Elementary, replacement of oil tanks at Grant D. Morse Elementary, and structural repairs at Riccardi Elementary.
In addition looking at closing a school, the committee will look at other ways to improve the district’s use of facilities. This may include the addition of universal pre-K or restructuring elementary schools by grade level.