There are three concerns in the decision to reconfigure its elementary school education that the Onteora Central School District board of education faces, three goals, three mountains to climb really. (All three proposed plans are detailed in the story on page 1, and more so, on the school district’s website www.onteora.k12.ny.us/.)
The first peak is fiscal. Like all school districts in the state, Onteora is caught in the squeeze between contracts, retirement contribution mandates and dwindling state aid coupled with the 2% tax levy increase cap. As do many, it faces a population decline, and poor economic times have made taxpayer particularly sensitive. The district projects savings enough from each of its plans to travel on down the road a couple of years, but the savings from implementing a reconfiguration plan are essential, immediately.
The second is educational. Or maybe this should be first. It is surely equal to the fiscal. And the district is not doing well, by changed state standards. Not many districts are, but few would disagree that its students need to be better prepared for the world. Trustees appear quite interested in the grade clustering plans for both its educational possibilities and money saving potential.
The third mountain to climb is community support. This may be the hardest hill to crest, but can a district thrive so divided? Here we are hamstrung by being widely spread out, necessitating longer bus rides, and by existing in some six separate towns that have widely diverging cultures. Each of the plans has provoked agonizing divides, and every argument seems to have merit (see the section on opinions, page 9, for a sampling.) There is no perfect solution to the problems of the district. Each works for someone, or a community within the district, and each doesn’t for someone else, and another community. For every sigh of support for a decision, there will be sharp stings of grievance.
The superintendent has made her recommendation as to what works to the board. But it is the board that has to make the decision.
We are convinced that the trustees of Onteora have engaged in an open process, one that has been diligent, that has aired the issues extensively, that has listened to concerns, and that they surely understand the well-documented positions of proponents and opponents of each alternative. They, our elected representatives, will make the choice that they believe best for the district. We will support their choice.
What concerns us more is the reaction from the communities. We urge all Onteora citizens to greet this extraordinarily difficult decision with calm and respect. You may not like it, but it will have been made with what the trustees we have chosen consider the best interests of the district. You will have a chance to vote for two new trustees in May, to voice your opinion on the budget through an election. That’s the way we do it. ++