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January 27, 2014

Board of Education's facilities deliberations to continue on Jan. 28

Following a community forum and two strategic planning sessions this month, the Board of Education will continue its review of school configuration options at its meeting on Tuesday, January 28. The Board could vote as early as that evening.

The facilities options the Board has been discussing emerged from the recommendations of the community-based Facilities Utilization Advisory Committee, which were presented in a report last month.

The advisory committee was charged with investigating and planning for future building and grade-level configurations suitable for meeting student program needs through 2018. The district is projecting budget gaps in the coming years, and enrollment at each elementary and middle school is below capacity by varying degrees.

After five months of study, the facilities committee recommended that the Board of Education consider three potential school configuration options for implementation for next September. The three options were: close an elementary school; operate four K-4 elementary schools, a grades 5-6 school and a grades 7-8 school; and close VA and have a grades 6-8 middle school campus at Rosendale and Iroquois.

The Board is looking most closely at potentially closing an elementary school -- consolidating the five grades K-5 schools into four K-5 schools. In their review of the options, Board members noted that the configuration model that included the 5-6 and 7-8 schools added another transition to a new building for students. Additionally, the Rosendale-Iroquois campus model called for the closure or repurposing of two schools -- Rosendale as an elementary school and Van Antwerp.

The work of the Facilities Utilization Advisory Committee included an in-depth review of options against a variety of criteria, including academic program and equity of opportunities for student. The committee found that each of the options it recommended were viable in terms of available capacity.

Also this fall, the Board of Education began a long-term strategic planning process. At this stage, the elements of the plan fall into several priority categories, including academic program, attracting and retaining staff, student culture, communications, partnerships, and branding.

The Board has been working toward having the essential components of a plan identified to help inform the facilities decision, and it will present an update on this process at the January 28 meeting.

At a strategic planning session on January 21, the Board looked at the impact of a potential school closure on its short-term planning and long-term vision for the district. Members reviewed information about the impact of an elementary school closure on class size, remaining capacity, and available space for special education, student support, and BOCES classroom rentals. [View information] The district would have the capacity to accommodate any growth that is projected, and class sizes will be within the district's guidelines, if a school is closed.

If a school is closed, the district would need to redraw the elementary boundaries for the remaining four schools. This means that means that the decision to close a school would impact families in the remaining four elementary schools, in addition to the school closed. This would be necessary to develop enrollment zones that balance class sizes and school population in relation to available space across the district.

The elementary school closure model that has been used to demonstrate the impact on items such as remaining capacity has involved Birchwood Elementary. The Birchwood and Glencliff buildings have the fewest number of regular classrooms; this means that closing either is the scenario that leaves the district with the greatest remaining capacity to accommodate any enrollment growth and other programs and services. At this time, no decisions have been made about whether a school will close or not.

The Board has requested more information about the impact on student transportation of consolidating the current five elementary attendance zones into four. This will be presented on January 28.

Closing an elementary school would result in savings of at least $415,000, while closing Van Antwerp would result in savings of at least $568,000.

Additional information about the impact of closing an elementary school will be presented on January 28. Topics are expected to include the impact of redistricting, elementary class sizes, accommodation of self-contained and BOCES classrooms in a re-districted elementary school population, and updated census information.

A draft of the BOE's five-year strategic plan will also be presented and next steps for its continued development will be discussed on Tuesday night.

The January 28 BOE meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the Van Antwerp auditorium.