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Parents urge Niskayuna board not to close school

Birchwood likely candidate because of size, location

January 29, 2014
Updated 10:51 a.m.
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Parents fill the auditorium at Van Antwerp Middle School for public comments during a Niskayuna School Board meeting on Tuesday, January 28, 2014 about the possible closing of Birchwood  School.
Photographer: Patrick Dodson
Parents fill the auditorium at Van Antwerp Middle School for public comments during a Niskayuna School Board meeting on Tuesday, January 28, 2014 about the possible closing of Birchwood School.

— The Niskayuna Central School District Board of Education should look harder at options other than closing an elementary school, parents told the board Tuesday night.

They questioned whether closing a school would create more problems than it would solve.

More than 200 people packed the Van Antwerp Middle School auditorium for Tuesday night’s board meeting. A total of 36 parents signed up to speak at public comment.

District officials tried to answer residents’ questions in a presentation prior to public comment, outlining the process that brought the district to consider closing a school and providing numbers they said would back that move. The school they’re looking at closing is Birchwood Elementary School, should it come to that.

Birchwood parent Christine Faga argued closing a school would save too little money to have an impact.

“I don’t think you have to do it at all,” Faga told the board. “You have not proven to me how this fits into your long-term plan.

“You can find it elsewhere,” she added. “I implore you to find it elsewhere.”

Board members said they would decide whether to close a school at its next meeting Feb. 4.

The board has been considering closing a school since last year in an effort to save money and close an expected budget gap that could be as much as $2.6 million.

Closing an elementary school is projected to save the district at least $415,000 in the next budget. Birchwood emerged as the leading contender during a school board strategy session last week.

Parents supported Birchwood by handing out pins declaring “Birchwood Pride.” Both Birchwood’s size, with fewer classrooms, and its location, on the edge of the district, have made it a prime candidate for closure, board members have said.

Superintendent Susan Kay Salvaggio called this a “serious moment in time for Niskayuna.” She tried to answer questions raised about the process of deciding to close a school.

Salvaggio said reallocation of students will happen no matter what. Schools are underutilized, she said.

Closing an elementary school provides the least disruption to academic programs, compared to other options, she said. It also provides opportunity to improve elementary school programs through concentration of resources.

Class sizes are expected to fall within guidelines and variance in class sizes will also be reduced.

As to how the decision is made on which school to close, Salvaggio said space is important.

“Closing a school with the fewest classrooms results in the greatest remaining capacity,” Salvaggio said.

Birchwood and Glencliff have the fewest number of classrooms, each with 18. The other three schools have 21 classrooms.

Closing Birchwood would also affect the fewest students — 524. Craig has 593 students, and Glencliff 682.

Salvaggio closed her remarks by saying if the board decides to close a school, “We will attend to every child and every family and every zone in Niskayuna. We are one school.”

Parents also questioned why the district would close a school only eight years after asking voters to approve building improvements across the district. They pointed to other possible cuts, including in administration.

Salvaggio said financial problems over the past four years have resulted in a 25 percent cut to the administrative team.

Parent Matt Behar echoed many parents who spoke Tuesday night.

“Closing an elementary school at this time is not in our students’ best interests,” he told the board.

 
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