Parents scrutinize Niskayuna school closure ideas
NISKAYUNA Niskayuna parent Erik Posner wanted to make sure Tuesday night that the district considered all sides of proposals to possibly close a school.
He noted that materials provided to the public cited benefits of each of three proposals. But he wanted to see drawbacks as well.
“There’s nothing here that talks about weaknesses,” Posner said in one of three groups at an informational forum on the proposals Tuesday evening, adding a short time later: “What are the downsides?”
School board member Robert Winchester responded that Tuesday night’s forum was to help do that, to look for perspectives from parents and others on the proposals to understand those sides better.
About 50 people attended the forum Tuesday evening at Van Antwerp Middle School to learn more about the proposals and ask questions.
The process began as a way to save money as the district faces budget gaps. Exactly when the board will make a decision is unclear. It is now working on putting together a budget proposal for the 2014-15 year to go to voters in May.
For the upcoming budget talks, the board must close a gap of as much as $2.6 million. Closing a school would only provide a portion of that, with an elementary school estimated to save $415,000 or Van Antwerp Middle School estimated to save $568,000.
The forum split into three smaller groups to learn more about each of the three proposals, with district officials taking notes of each comment and concern brought up.
Parent Michelle Ostrelich told the board she hoped the financial and student numbers their decision will be based upon are good. She questioned how some numbers turned out in the past.
She also said she hopes the board considers the culture change that the proposals would bring.
More importantly, she said, she wanted to know as soon as possible where her children will be going to school next year.
The forum was followed by a school board meeting, during which board members continued the discussion.
The board was presented with three recommendations last month by a committee of district and community members.
The final three options presented to the board are:
u Close one elementary school by consolidating five into four, leaving the district’s two middle schools as they are.
u Close one elementary school, make the remaing four schools grades K to 4; have grades 5 and 6 at the current Van Antwerp Middle School, and grades 7 and 8 at the current Iroquois Middle School.
u Create a “middle school campus” focused on the current Rosendale Elementary School and Iroquois Middle School, located near each other. Grade 6 would be at Rosendale, while grades 7 and 8 would be at Iroquois. The current Van Antwerp Middle School would then close.
Board member Patricia Lanotte indicated at the board meeting that the two proposals that include reconfiguring the middle school grades in two different ways needed more information for her to consider them.
“I think we’re going to have to nail that down,” Lanotte said. ‘We don’t have nearly enough information to make an informed decision.”
Officials said later that any of the three proposals could be implemented by the next school year, though some aspects might have to wait.
For the two proposals that would close an elementary school, no individual elementary school has been identified for closure.
Evan Brooksby, a parent and member of the committee that came up with the three proposals, said he preferred an option that would create a middle school campus, putting grades 7-8 at Iroquois Middle School and grade 6 at the current Rosendale.
That option, he said, provides more opportunities academically.
“Are there technical challenges? Absolutely,” Brooksby said of that option. “But just because something is hard doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.”