Woodstock and Phoenicia’s elementary schools are targeted for closure by a majority of the Onteora School Board and superintendent Victoria McLaren. To supposedly cut district costs, these trustees seek to create “a central campus” for k-5 students at Bennett Elementary in Boiceville.
I am one of many taxpayers adamantly opposed to this.
Losing Phoenicia and Woodstock elementaries would severely impact vulnerable communities in both a human and a fiscal sense. Such a drastic move would mean longer bus rides – an hour plus – for more children, including our community’s youngest, and it would present yet another upheaval for the many struggling to catch up after pandemic school closures.
As Uncle Rock, I work with the youngest of this cohort. I continue to witness firsthand how Covid isolation has delayed development in a distressing number of these kids. Longer bus rides, larger class sizes, and forced adjustment to a new environment further from home could only exacerbate their unprecedented issues.
To get a sense of what consolidation would sound and look like, I encourage anyone to drive to the shuttered West Hurley School and roll down your window. That’s a very loud kind of quiet. It’s what mothballs sound like. It’s been like that since 2004. And by all means, ask any longtime West Hurley resident if their neighborhood is better or worse off without the vibrancy of that school.
Ask any Woodstock or Phoenicia business owner if their business would be better or worse off without their local school.
Although consultants have presented several options to offset a dip in enrollment, the momentum is to eliminate Phoenicia and Woodstock elementaries and bus all children in the 288-square-mile district to Bennett Elementary in Boiceville. To accommodate the influx, that circa-1960 building would need ten new classrooms, a gym, and an expanded cafeteria. How much will these renovations/additions cost? The board members and superintendent won’t say, because they don’t know.
A similar move to consolidate was attempted in 2008. As a parent of a then-ten-year-old, I was there. Unlike the current pro-consolidation trustees, then-superintendent Leslie Ford did her due diligence, and a $70-million price tag was affixed to proposed Bennett renovations to make room for the tidal wave of kids from the other schools.
The board majority who had pushed for that was voted out soon thereafter, and their plans reversed — because then, like now, most of their constituents opposed closing the village schools. That majority of taxpayers could not abide both the fiscal costs to taxpayers and businesses, and even more so, the human cost to the hamlets, and to Onteora’s youngest.
This begs a few questions:
Is the current consolidation-minded majority looking to that 2008 situation and deliberately avoiding hiring experts to assess the costs – both fiscal and human – of their plans?
Is this lack of transparency and due diligence intentional?
Do they think their constituents aren’t engaged, aren’t paying attention? News flash: We are.
Phoenicia resident Robert Burke Warren was an Onteora School Board trustee from 2017 to 2020.