Plan to close one Saugerties elementary school met with strong opposition

The potential closure of a Saugerties Central School District (SCSD) elementary school and reconfiguration of the remaining three has already garnered significant opposition, despite school officials noting that the current model is unsustainable given a dwindling student population and nearly $10 million in anticipated budget gaps over the next three years. 

The SCSD Board of Education and district administrators heard from the public for close to three hours during a meeting held at Grant D. Morse Elementary on Tuesday, October 12, with many saying that a $22 million capital project approved by an 849-260 vote last December was sold on the premise of having renovations done on all four elementary schools, with no indication school officials might consider closing one. 

“The district was given a huge endorsement of trust and confidence by the community that approved its budget proposal by overwhelming numbers,” said Alicia Gambino, one of many speakers during the meeting. “Now, only months later, that trust is now called into question.”

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But school officials point toward a perfect storm of an uncertain fiscal situation in New York State and difficult times ahead for the SCSD if something isn’t done. A report by the district’s Governance Committee shows a projected $1.6 million budget shortfall in 2022-23, a $3.2 million gap for 2023-24, and a $5.1 chasm for 2024-25. 

Three different models for a three-elementary school future

The report says that the district has an opportunity to become more efficient while increasing programming, aligning curriculum and enhancing education for all its students. And to do that, they’ve offered three different models for a three-elementary school future. 

Model A would keep the current K-6 configuration intact for three elementary schools. The pros were listed as maintaining neighborhood schools, involve fewer transitions and simplified transportation. The cons are noted as less equity in class size, ESSA funding, curriculum consistency and programming, the possibility of future redistricting and less cost savings. Model A would potentially save the district $2,072,873. 

Model B would yield two buildings serving K-3 students and one students in grades 4-6. Some of the pros were shown as the same as Model A and also included a balance in class sizes in grades 4-6 and a greater preparation for transition to middle school. Cons included less curriculum consistency in primary grades and the possibility of future K-3 redistricting. The potential cost savings of Model B are $2,574,523. 

Model C would represent the most significant shift in the district, with three elementary academies, one serving K-2, another 3-4 and the last 5-6. The pros are cited as including equitable class size, ESSA funding and programming; increased programming; curriculum consistency; and no future need to redistrict. The cons are a loss of neighborhood schools, multiple transitions and a potentially byzantine transportation scenario with fewer walkers, longer bus rides and an as yet undetermined cost. Model C could potentially save the district $3,061,499. 

Student population is declining

The Governance Committee report also showed a district-wide student population which peaked at around 3,500 in 2005-06 and has been on a steady decline ever since. The current student population is around 2,300, said Superintendent Kirk Reinhardt, and though there are numerous residential projects either approved by or being reviewed by the Town Planning Board, he said there is no reason to believe they will bring the numbers up to a level that supports four elementary schools in the SCSD. 

School officials rejected a rumor that Morse Elementary had already been chosen as the school to close and said that while a reconfigured elementary level would ideally begin in the 2022-23 school year, they plan to hold numerous community meetings over the next several weeks to ensure everyone’s voices are heard. 

“I would like to have a recommendation to the board by December, at the latest January,” Reinhardt said. “I would like to have that six months to roll this out. Do we do virtual tours? Do we do in-person tours? Do we decide what kind of orientations we’d want in the fall? We’d want teachers to know where they are if they’re in a different building, we would want parents to know who their new principals are going to be. I’d like that six, seven months, you know, to really take our time and roll things out.”

Meeting its objectives

Reinhardt said he understood that the idea of closing an elementary school can be difficult, especially as some parents attended the same community school their children attend now. But he added that closing a school can not only save money but also improve the academic offerings for every Saugerties student and ensure equity for all. 

“We’re a public school, right?” Reinhardt said during an interview with Hudson Valley One following the School Board meeting at Morse. “We have a legal and moral obligation to make sure that all of our students are getting the same high quality education. And one of the things people often say is that there isn’t always consistency when you have multiple buildings. And I’m not saying it’s done on purpose, but you have four different principals and multiple sections, and that consistency becomes hard. It’s so important for us to make sure that all students are getting the same high quality education throughout the district, regardless of geography.”

Reinhardt said that the district is taking an open approach to the possibility of closing an elementary school in the hopes that more members of the community will get involved. 

“People are emotional, but some of the same people that have been emotional are meeting are also starting to give input on things they’d like to see going forward,” Reinhardt said. “One of the parents who initially was opposed wanted to know our options for a wraparound program, because that’s becoming more of a need for families. They’ve started asking if we’re going to increase collegiate programs. What does it look like to have more electives offered for our middle school students so that there’s more pathways to AP and internships at the high school level?”

Reinhardt said the district is trying to strike a balance and meet its objectives in a difficult time. 

“Our goal is to provide the best opportunity and education for all students in Saugerties and as always, be fiscally responsible to the community,” he said.

There are 3 comments

  1. Bill H

    It’s a virtue to have small class sizes, even if it is expensive. I wonder, what are the elementary school class sizes this year, and what will they be when consolidation occurs? Not vagaries, but real numbers.

    In education, uniformity, efficiency and cost savings are nearly always at the expense of opportunities to give individual students greater attention and resources. This has been true for a century.

  2. andrew cowan

    I agree with the concerns about the school system pushing hard for the budget increase last year for FOUR schools and now “suddenly” closing one of the four. I also can’t fathom how the Saugerties school system is constantly in need of millions and millions of dollars annually for repairs, improvements etc- who specifically has been responsible for what appears to be poor management of the school systems infrastructure, repairs and general budgets ? Why if student population is dwindling to such an extent that a school will be closed is there still la need for such huge amount of funding for the school system?

    What are the plans for the closed school ? Will it sit empty? Will lit be torn down? Will it be re-purposed? The plans are already in place I’m sure, what are they?

    Has anyone factored in the proposed Winston Farms development and it’s 2000 new residents and who many students the development will bring to the school system? Will Winston Farms be funding the inevitable new school thatt will required ? They should be. Or, maybe the rush to close the school should be delayed.

  3. Roadshow Magic.

    If one school is closed it means that a large number of students will have to spend more of their time traveling back and forth on school buses. We need to specifically ask how long the bus-trip will be for every child. An hour? Two hours? More?

    The article states that there will be fewer walkers, apparently because kids will be on a bus to one of the remaining schools not located near their homes.

    Is this what we want?

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