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Niskayuna board may vote on closing school

Parents expected to voice opposition at Tuesday meeting

Wednesday, January 22, 2014
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— A decision could be made next week on whether to close a school in Niskayuna and the leading contender for closure appears to be Birchwood Elementary School, Board of Education members say.

The news upset Birchwood parents, and many are expected to attend Tuesday’s school board meeting to voice their concerns.

The board has been considering closing a school since last year in an effort to save money and close an expected budget gap. Closing an elementary school is expected to save the district at least $415,000 in the next budget. Birchwood emerged as the leading contender for closure during a school board strategy session Tuesday evening.

A committee tasked with narrowing down the options and gathering information presented its findings to the board last month, focusing on three options. Discussion since then has appeared to center on a single option, simply closing an elementary school, though some board members didn’t rule out including elements of the other options, such as creation of a middle school campus, in future years.

“There’s a fairly strong sentiment that the board has to make a decision,” board member Robert Winchester said Wednesday.

The decision is being given some urgency, he said, so parents can know as early as possible where their children will be going to school next year. But even if the board decides to close a school next week, it will take time for the district to redraw attendance zones, which will determine what school students attend.

Before the board members make a decision on closing a school, they have asked for more information on how students would be redistricted, how much classroom space would remain, how the programs would fit in that space and whether busing needs would change.

Winchester said he is waiting to make his decision until he hears the answers to those questions.

Board member John Buhrmaster said he believes only a few questions still need to be answered.

“I’m prepared at the next meeting to make my decision, once I’ve heard all the information,” he said.

He said he still sees the possibility of creating a “middle school campus” out of Rosendale and Iroquois schools in the future, as he sees academic value in that model.

Board member Barbara Mauro said she is also still deciding on school closure.

“I could see myself voting for this as long as certain things are in place,” she said.

If the board does close a school, she said she wants a plan to reuse the building in the future, possibly as some form of magnet school that might include students from outside the district.

Birchwood emerged as the leading candidate for closure for several reasons, board members said, including the building’s size — it does not have as many classrooms as most other district schools — and location on the edge of town, on Birchwood Lane near the Colonie border.

Birchwood parent Lynn Boler said closing an outlying school, like Birchwood, doesn’t make sense to her. She said she wants to hear solid reasons for closing Birchwood.

“I was disappointed,” she said of her reaction when she heard of the possibility that Birchwood could close. “But mostly because I didn’t feel like I was given a reasonable or fair reason. If I was given a good reason, I could support anything.”

Boler is the parent of three current Birchwood students, a first-, third- and fourth-grader.

She also questioned why the board isn’t considering the middle school campus option, which would include closing the older Van Antwerp Middle School.

Boler said she plans to be at Tuesday’s meeting with other Birchwood parents, but noted many parents will have to choose between the meeting and a student concert at Birchwood scheduled for the same evening.

Tuesday’s board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Van Antwerp Middle School.

 
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