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39-member committee

Group offers three options for closing a Niskayuna school

Tuesday, December 3, 2013
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39-member committee


Closing Van Antwerp Middle School is among the options being considered by the Niskayuna Central School District Board of Education.
Photographer: Marc Schultz
Closing Van Antwerp Middle School is among the options being considered by the Niskayuna Central School District Board of Education.

— The Niskayuna Central School District committee charged with investigating future building and grade-level configurations presented its final three recommendations to the school board Tuesday.

Each option would require redistricting of some kind or redrawing school boundaries.

The first option — to consolidate five elementary schools into four and leave the district’s two middle schools as they are — would be the easiest to implement and wouldn’t require any program changes. With one fewer building in use, the district’s elementary facilities would be up to nearly 90 percent of capacity.

The second option would also consolidate five elementary schools into four, but would reconfigure the grades so elementary school would be kindergarten through fourth grade. Fifth- and sixth-graders would attend Van Antwerp Middle School, and seventh- and eighth-graders would attend Iroquois Middle School. This configuration would put the district’s elementary facilities up to 73 percent of capacity.

This option would provide opportunity for new academic programs at the fifth- and sixth-grade level and would address academic consistency issues at the seventh- and eighth-grade level, but it would also create an additional transition for students — a topic many parents and teachers feel strongly about.

“Much of the research that’s out there shows that transitions are often when kids get misplaced or fall through the cracks,” said board member Robert Winchester after the presentation was complete Tuesday.

Board member Barbara Mauro also questioned the committee, known officially as the Facilities Utilization Advisory Committee, on how much research and discussion went into weighing the transition process for students. She admitted she is unsure how many years are best for elementary and middle school, and whether three years of middle school really make much more of a difference than two.

“I still want to know which is the best fit,” Mauro said, adding she was thankful for how much time the committee put into its task.

The third option would be to close Van Antwerp Middle School and create a middle school campus with sixth grade at Rosendale Elementary School and seventh and eighth grades at nearby Iroquois. District facilities would be up to nearly 90 percent of capacity under that scenario.

This option, the committee said, would enhance a “unified experience” for all middle-school students and address academic consistency issues. There would also be benefits to having all current sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade teachers on the same campus.

The first two options would close an elementary school, saving the district a projected $415,000, according to the committee’s calculations. Closing Van Antwerp would save the district a projected $568,000. Regardless of which option the board chooses, if it does at all, the committee recommended the board develop a plan to use any vacated space to generate revenue. Some options would include using the space for programs in science and technology, setting up an incubator space, finding a magnet school to fill the space or simply leasing or selling the space.

Many members of the 39-member committee — which includes parents, students, community members, teachers and administrators — were in attendance Tuesday night and received a standing ovation from the board and the audience for their five months of work.

The board made no decisions Tuesday, but plan to discuss the options further at future board meetings. The committee pleaded with them to not let another budget season pass without making hard decisions.

The 2014-15 school budget goes to voters in May.

 
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comments

December 4, 2013
4:08 p.m.
JJF says...

"The board made no decisions Tuesday"! With savings options ranging from $415,000 to $568,000, minus the +/- $17,000 for the consultant, so management could have someone to "take the fall", my vote on the budget in May is decided.

December 7, 2013
2:27 p.m.
jjhehir says...

In the past five years, employee benefits (pensions and health insurance) in the Niskayuna School District have increased 43 percent, from approximately $12.9 million to $18.4 million. That is a $1.1 million increase each year. A $415,000 or $568,000 savings is not going solve a very serious fiscal problem created by the Legislature. Hopefully, citizens will realize this and write their legislators to pay for the very generous pensions they have created, which account for the bulk of the increase in employee benefits.

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