Parents oppose idea of closing Oneida school
SCHENECTADY Parents at a PTO meeting Wednesday said they will be afraid to send their children to Mont Pleasant Middle School if the district were to close Oneida Middle School.
“I think people are going to literally start selling their houses,” said Lisa Kirkham, who worried about the safety of her sixth-grade daughter.
“There are people who just want to be bullies.”
Kirkham was one of about 40 parents of Woodlawn and Paige elementary students who attended a meeting at Paige to hear Superintendent John Yagielski’s proposals for potential reconfiguration of the schools.
Closing Oneida is one option being discussed as the district contends with a nearly $7 million budget deficit.
The district is seeking to cut costs by making better use of its buildings. Under this concept being explored, Oneida would be closed and Zoller and Woodlawn would expand to kindergarten through grade eight. The district’s two other K-8 schools are King Magnet School and Central Park International Magnet School. Mont Pleasant Middle School, which is only half full at 550 students, would become the only grades 7-8 middle school.
In response to parent inquiries, Yagielski said Wednesday he is also exploring a K-8 option at Paige.
Another woman who did not wish to give her name said her son was going to take a placement test to try to get into Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons school. Her husband is a police officer and is aware of incidents at Mont Pleasant. She did not elaborate.
Kevin Adams asked if closing Oneida would close the entire budget gap. Yagielski said it wouldn’t.
“Is it worth making these kind of changes in our children’s lives to solve a small percentage of this year’s problem?” Adams asked.
Another parent said putting close to a thousand kids in Mont Pleasant scared the “bejeezus” out of him. He worried that the educational quality would suffer and the district’s middle schools — already on state needs improvement list — would be taken over by the state.
Yagielski said the district wouldn’t put a thousand students in the building. Children are very resourceful in dealing with change, according to Yagielski. “As tough as it is for parents, the kids handle it really well,” he said.
Another parent said that her daughter has seen five fights since she’s been at Oneida, implying it would be worse at Mont Pleasant. “You’re asking me to send my daughter to an area where I said 'there is no good reason for you to be over there.’”
School board member Cheryl Nechamen defended the school, saying its culture is made up of the students who attend.
“If all of the Paige kids went to Mont Pleasant, that changes the culture right there,” she said.
Milagros Morales, who lives in Mont Pleasant, agreed that education starts at home.
“It is not in my mind set to believe that my son is a magnet to pick up everything around them,” she said.
Kirkham said that is only good to a point. “When I was young, we didn’t have things like knives and guns. Maybe somebody pulled your hair or slapped your face,” she said.
Resident Peter Green, who has three children in the district, said there has been little long-range planning in Schenectady. He questioned why the district didn’t add more classrooms when it built an addition on to Paige three years ago to accommodate sixth grade.
“This is why we waste money in this district. We make changes and four and five years later, we change back — back and forth, back and forth,” he said.
Yagielski conceded the point. “It’s clear that our district has not had a long-range plan that was well laid out,” he said.
That is why the district conducted information sessions late last year about how residents wanted schools configured. There was strong support for K-8 schools but the district does not have space to make every school K-8.
Yagielski said it would take about four weeks to develop the proposals for how to reorganize schools for next year. He is still gathering input from the community and will hold meetings with PTOs on Monday at 6:30 p.m. at Central Park school, Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Oneida and Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Elmer Avenue.