The Saugerties Central School District’s (SCSD) efforts to reimagine education for all students is being partly served by the impending closure of Mt. Marion Elementary School at the end of the 2021-22 school year. Where those students will wind up attending school is still being worked out.
SCSD Superintendent Kirk Reinhardt updated some of the plans for the 2022-23 school year during a presentation at a meeting of the Board of Education held on Tuesday, February 8. Reinhardt said the question he’s most being asked by parents is how will elementary school attendance zones be redrawn, and how soon will they be announced?
“Our transportation department, our business department and our special education department are putting all of that together,” Reinhardt said. “And we’re hoping within the next few weeks to put out those lines to our parents so they know as soon as possible, uh, especially the ones that were real close on the edge.”
Some transportation and school day information has already been established by the district. The academic day at the Jr./Sr. High School will run from 7:45 a.m. until 2:18 p.m., with morning school bus drop off at 7:25 a.m.
Of the district’s three remaining elementary schools — Lawrence M. Cahill, Grant D. Morse and Charles M. Riccardi — two will run from 8:45 a.m. through 2:58 p.m., and the other from 9:15 a.m. until 3:28 p.m.. School bus drop off will be 8:25 a.m. and 8:55 a.m. respectively. Which of the elementary schools will be in which timeframe will in part be determined by bus routes, including a desire to keep as many special education students in their home schools as possible, as well as maintaining after-school programs across the district. The goal, Reinhardt said, is to announce attendance boundaries by April or May.
In an interview three days after the school board meeting, Reinhardt said the district is also looking into enrichment programs and other academic opportunities for all grade levels, including elementary schools.
“One of our district goals is for all students to be on or above reading level at the end of third grade,” Reinhardt said. “We definitely know that’s going to help our students. And this is an opportunity for us to really align our curriculum, to make sure that all students are getting a high level rigorous curriculum, and they’re all prepared when they enter seventh grade.”
During a meeting held on Tuesday, January 11, the SCSD Board of Education voted 8-1 to close Mt. Marion Elementary School at the end of the 2021-22 school year and absorb its students into the three remaining elementary schools in the district. The Mt. Marion building will be turned into a universal pre-K hub and district offices.
School officials have said that the move was an inevitability, in part because of finances. An October report by the district’s Governance Committee shows a projected $1 million budget shortfall for the SCSD in 2022-23, a $1.7 million gap for 2023-24, a $3.7 million chasm for 2024-25, and a $6.1 million shortfall for 2025-26.
The Governance study also charted a districtwide 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 2,400, and though there are numerous residential projects either approved by or being reviewed by the Town Planning Board, the district is still projecting a modest annual decrease over the next decade, likely dropping to around 2,100 by the 2029-30 school year.
Last week, Reinhardt said some of the savings realized by closing Mt. Marion will be reinvested into programming and other equitable academic opportunities.
“Right now we are spending our money on buildings,” Reinhardt said. “Right now we’re running a deficit, but we’re going to be fiscally responsible to the community (by dropping to three elementary schools) and be able to use our money toward the resources for all our students, including those that may need extra support. And we’re also working toward enrichment for our students to compete in a global world.”
But while the district is looking to a global future, it’s not forgetting its local present or past. Reinhardt said inclusion means a lot of things in Saugerties, including ensuring that current Mt. Marion students are given ample opportunity and support as they move into their new schools.
“We want all of our students to know that they’re not marginalized,” Reinhardt said. “It’s important that a student feels a part of a group, a sense of belonging and the academics will follow.”
Reinhardt said the district is working with parent-teacher groups and a burgeoning transition committee to run field trips and host community events when the weather improves. They are also looking to honor the history of Mt. Marion to ensure it remains part of the fabric of the district.
“We want to honor that culture,” Reinhardt said. “And we want students to go and visit their new school and see their new teachers.”
Joining Mt. Marion students in new schools will be some of the district’s current faculty and staff, who are in talks with Director of Curriculum and Instruction Gwendolyn Roraback and Director of Human Resources Daniel Erceg to get a sense of where they’d like to be. School officials will also confer with building administrators in an effort to ensure each elementary school has the staff in place to enter the 2022-23 school year with the best chance for success.
“Once those decisions are made, that information will be put out to staff as soon as possible for packing and being ready for the this summer,” Reinhardt said.
The next meeting of the SCSD Board of Education is scheduled for Tuesday, March 8.