Over the past week, Mayor Shayne Gallo has spoken up about the proposed closings of three more Kingston City School District elementary schools and Kingston Hospital – most recently at a Tuesday afternoon press conference, where he called on the people of the city to start speaking up too.
Starting last week, when Gallo started issuing dire warnings about what would happen to Midtown if both Sophie Finn Elementary and Kingston Hospital are closed, as they would be if proposals by KCSD Superintendent Paul Padalino and the HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley board of directors are adopted as they now read, the mayor has been very vocal. This Tuesday, he summoned the media to City Hall to codify his thoughts and issue his call to action.
“Essentially we have the beginning of a tsunami, where literally we could have a hole in our community with the closing of Sophie Finn and the closing of the Kingston Hospital campus right next door which I can see every day from my office,” said Gallo during a press conference which – as he paced back and forth in the Common Council chambers before an audience of reporters, community members and at least four school board trustees – seemed at times similar to the delivery of an opening argument at trial.
His remarks Tuesday were along the same theme as ones delivered at the end of last Thursday’s public forum: He, the mayor, is not responsible for closing of either schools or hospitals, but he keeps getting messages and phone calls blaming him. He supports County Executive Mike Hein’s STRIVE proposal to bring a SUNY Ulster satellite campus to Midtown, but that should be at the already-closed Meagher Elementary, and Sophie Finn should remain open. The closure of both Finn andKingstonHospitalwould devastate that section of Midtown, which Gallo, ticking off a list of dire census figures, characterized as one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country. Sophie Finn, due to parking, drainage and traffic issues, is unsuitable for a college satellite campus and that proposal could have problems getting site plan approval. The people of the city, who are, Gallo said, cynically suspecting that bad schools are being merged into good schools to make the formerly good schools more eligible for federal aid, have been brought into the process very late, and deserve “a seat at the table.” The superintendent, school board trustees, the Kingston Teachers Federation and administrators all need to “get in a room” and make sacrifices to meaningfully cut what he repeatedly called the district’s “high administrative and personnel costs,” as the savings realized by school closings “no offense, are peanuts.” He doesn’t envy the board and the superintendent — he’s going to have to make tough decisions and ask city employees to make sacrifices as well to get under the 2 percent property tax cap. “Suffice to say, I’m going to have to make sacrifices and I would expect the superintendent, administrators and the KTF to step up,” said Gallo.
Gallo also asked the public to get involved, and charged the Common Council with getting involved too. “I’m asking the residents, particularly the residents of wards 4, 5, 7 and nine, to step up, call your alderman,” the mayor said. “I’ve asked Jim Noble, president of the Common Council, to appoint those aldermen to a committee to engage in any dialogue regarding the closure of another neighborhood school … I would expect that the residents of those wards reach out to their aldermen and let their concerns be known. … “Basically I’m calling for a partnership … let’s work together as partners.”
Among those on hand at City Hall were school board trustees Jim Shaughnessy and the Rev. James Childs. (Trustees Maureen Bowers and Nora Scherer were spotted as well.) Shaughnessy, interviewed after the mayor wrapped up his remarks, said he would welcome Gallo to the decision-making table, but that he still supported the superintendent’s plan to merge Sophie Finn, Anna Devine and Zena schools into other elementary schools after the next school year. “I favor Dr. Padalino’s plan,” said Shaughnessy, recently ousted as school board president. “I’ll be releasing a public statement on that in a day or two.”
Shaughnessy added that he thought Gallo was off-base if the mayor was saying the district had too many administrators. “We don’t have anybody to cut atCrown Street. We are very lean,” he said, pointing toNewburghas having “seven or eight” district-level administrators while Kingston has only four.
Childs too said he was in favor of Padalino’s plan and that it “would be great” if the mayor spoke with district officials about it. But, he added, “I haven’t heard anything that the mayor said that would change my mind. I hear what he was saying, but I don’t agree with what he was saying.”
The next meeting of the Kingston Board of Education was to be held Wednesday evening, too late for this edition. Padalino has asked trustees for a quick answer to his proposal so he can meet his stated goal of getting everything together so parents and kids will know by the first day of school in the fall what grade school, or in the case of fifth-graders, what middle school they’ll be attending in the 2013-14 school year.
Steamy night at KHS
Padalino took his redistricting plan to the people last week, hosting a public forum at Kingston High which allowed both the Board of Education and area residents to seek clarification and express concern from the proposal’s primary author. About 100 community members gathered in the school’s decidedly non-air conditioned auditorium on a hot, humid summer evening for the session.