Saugerties Central School District (SCSD) school officials look into closing Mount Marion Elementary School if they move forward with plans to reconfigure their schools to deal with shrinking student populations and a looming budget deficit of $ 12.5 million over the next four years.
“The easiest school to redistribute is Mount Marion based on geography and roads,” Superintendent Kirk Reinhardt said at a school board meeting held at Mount Marion Elementary School on Tuesday, Nov. 9.
The meeting lasted nearly four hours, with a dozen speakers opposing the district’s plan to close an elementary school and only two in favor.
Kimberly Sloan said she and her children attend Mount Marion Elementary School and that her grandchildren will too.
“There is a sense of community that is here,” Sloan said. “I knew where my school was. It was a home away from home. With this new plan of class subdivision, you are taking that away from our children… You are taking away this social bond, a feeling of belonging. They belong here for two years, they ship here for two years, then here for two years. It just robs our kids of feeling safe, and that’s what a school is supposed to provide for kids. “
Three different models for a future at three elementary schools
Last month, a report from the district governance committee showed that the district has an opportunity to become more effective while increasing programming, aligning programs and improving education for all of its students. To achieve this, they came up with three different models for a future to three elementary schools.
Model A would retain the current K-6 configuration for three elementary schools intact. The benefits were listed as maintaining neighborhood schools, involving fewer transitions and simplified transportation. The drawbacks are noted as less equity in class size, ESSA funding, curriculum consistency and programming; the possibility of a future redistribution; and less savings. Model A would save the district approximately $ 1.8 million.
Model B would result in two buildings for Kindergarten to Grade 3 students and one for Grades 4 to 6 students. Some of the benefits were touted as the same as Model A and also included a balance in grade 4-6 class size and better preparation for the transition to college. The downsides included less curriculum consistency in primary grades and the possibility of a future K-3 redistribution. The potential cost savings of Model B are approximately $ 2.4 million
Model C would represent the most significant change in the district, with three elementary academies, one serving K-2, another 3-4 and the last 5-6. Benefits are cited as including equitable class size, ESSA funding and programming; increased programming; curriculum coherence; and no future need for redistribution. The downsides are a loss of neighborhood schools, multiple transitions, and a potentially Byzantine transport scenario with fewer walkers, longer bus journeys, and still undetermined cost. Model C could potentially save the district $ 2.8 million.
An uncertain tax situation
The governance committee report showed a district-wide student population that peaked at around 3,500 in 2005-06 and has been declining steadily since. The current student body is around 2,300, Superintendent Kirk Reinhardt said, and although there are many residential projects approved or under consideration by the planning council, he said he did not There was no reason to believe that they would raise the numbers to a level that supports four SCSD elementary schools.
The report also points to a perfect storm of an uncertain tax situation in New York State, and tough times ahead for the SCSD if something is not done. District governance committee report shows projected budget deficit of $ 1 million in 2022-2023, gap of $ 1.7 million for 2023-24, sinkhole of $ 3.7 million for 2024-25 and a variance of $ 6.1 million for 2025-26.
Faith Dixon, a Mount Marion teaching assistant who has worked in the district for 26 years, said he felt the school officials were primarily motivated by money.
“I feel like you are making a money decision and not an educational decision when it comes to closing a school in our district,” she said.
But Reinhardt said closing a school isn’t just the fiscally responsible thing to do, it also has the potential to bring equity to the elementary level and beyond.
“We want equity in our buildings,” Reinhardt said. “If you look at grade 4, we have classes of 12 and classes of 25. It’s just not appropriate. I will continue to look at other models, but this is a huge inequity when it comes to access to education and opportunities. The student who is in the 4th grade class of 25 receives half the education of a student sitting in a class of 12. “
For some people in Mount Marion, the possibility of closing their neighborhood school was difficult to digest. John Dickson said he felt uncomfortable that school officials who were not from Saugerties were involved in deciding the future of the district.
“You’ve used the word ‘community’ a number of times,” Dickson said. “How easily you toss that word.” You, the Board, have brought in administrators from outside our community. Don’t condescend us by using that word.
Kayla O’Donnell has asked school officials to consider delaying their plans for at least a year to allow students growing up during the COVID-19 pandemic to get used to the idea.
This is a pandemic, ”said O’Donnell. “I have the impression that these children need stability more than ever. “
But not everyone who spoke was against the district’s plans.
“I empathize with those who feel like something is going to be lost,” said Sakinah Irizarry. “Too much has been lost in the past two years. We all face some harsh realities. Registration is down. Spending is on the rise… Our financial woes as a district are unsustainable… It takes money to run schools, and enrollment in our schools has been declining over the past decade or more. This means less money coming from the state and less resources for our students. “
Reinhardt said the Mount Marion School building would not necessarily be abandoned by the district, but could instead be reused as a pre-kindergarten and special needs center.
“We think this campus would be ideal for this,” Reinhardt said. “It’s a floor, it has two very distinct wings, and it’s also closer to places like Spectrum Services and Ulster BOCES.”