story was originally published on January 23, 2014 and has
subsequently been updated)
The Katonah-Lewisboro school board voted in favor of closing Lewisboro Elementary School (LES), effective Aug. 31, 2014.
The Thursday night vote was 5-2, with board President Charles Day and trustees Janet Harckham, Peter Treyz, Stephanie Tobin and Richard Stone voting in favor. Vice President Marjorie Schiff and trustee Jeff Holbrook voted against the closure.
The decision came after board members heard from parents making their final push against the proposal before the vote, as well as a request from former state Assemblyman Robert Castelli, who represented Lewisboro, for more time.
Former school board member Mark Lipton, who was on the board when exploration of reducing the number of elementary schools was first reviewed, spoke in support of the closure and commended Superintendent Paul Kreutzer.
Before the vote was held, some board members gave remarks in support of the closure, citing the school district's financial position and a desire to help its educational position. The predicted annual savings is less than $2 million.
Day, for example, felt that the district's financial shape is not good, saying it is his “firm belief.” Tobin feels that personnel savings from the closure can be used for full-day kindergarten.
Declining enrollment, which data show has been happening for years, is projected by the district's demographer to continue for several more. The enrollment trend, along with financial savings, are reasons why closing LES was given consideration.
The review process for a potential closure started during the previous school year, according to district records. A review group, called the School Utilization Committee, released findings in June, which raised the possibility of closing one or two elementary schools. The issue was studied further by a successor group called the School Closure Task Force, which included three school board members and was created during the summer. In October, it was disclosed that LES was the building being considered for closure. Several public hearings were subsequently held and parents stated their concerns at them. On Dec. 19, the full school board voted to accept a major document for the review, which is called an educational impact statement. That vote was also 5-2, with Schiff and Holbrook dissenting.
Kristen Riolo, who has spoken against the closure, spoke after the vote. She felt that waiting a year, a suggestion offered by numerous opponents, was a “prudent thing to do.”
Carmen Delessio, a vocal opponent, also spoke following the vote. Not surprised, he felt that the outcome was already determined.
The school board also approved a redistricting plan, which will have LES students moved to Increase Miller Elementary School (IMES) and Meadow Pond Elementary School (MPES).
The approved plan, which is called "Scenario 2.1," is a modification of a recent proposal called "Scenario 2," which in turn involved the creation of a corridor in the Route 22 area and had students in it switching from IMES to Katonah Elementary School (KES). The second version was produced after disclosure of initial version called "Scenario 1," which would have had LES students split among the district's three remaining active elementary schools. The first scenario also had IMES students moving to KES, although as a smaller cohort.
Under Scenario 2, which is based on 2013-14 data, 94 IMES students would have been moved to KES. In the adopted scenario, IMES students would were not moving under Scenario 1 will stay, which means that the number of affected students from the school is 46.
Some IMES parents were concerned about Scenario 2, with displacement and geography being factors. In contrast, it was explained at the meeting that Scenario 2.1 will not go north of Route 138 and will not involve moving a community in the Goldens Bridge train station area.
Scenario 2.1 was approved by a 4-3 vote, with Schiff, Holbrook and Harckham voting against it. It also passed despite some concerns given by administrators. Day, in remarks he gave before the redistricting vote, noted the administrators' concerns and their preference for Scenario 2. Distribution of students between the buildings was a concern for some, while the size of the transitioning cohort was a concern for another official. For example, Assistant Superintendent for Business Michael Jumper, who wanted a more even student distribution, cited sustaining the redistricting as a reason.
letter from the school board was posted on the district's website
that explained the closure decision.
The announcement states: "We recognize that there are many questions regarding the nature of the transition and assure you that we are doing everything possible to make this a positive experience. We certainly have the best interests of our students, their families, and our staff members at heart, and will be taking a thoughtful approach to helping everyone adjust to this change."
The letter also describes the transition, which includes a Transition Committee that will include staffers from the district.
With details, the letter states: "The Transition Committee will be providing parents with information pertaining to transportation matters, destination schools, and suggested ways to speak to your children about the school closure so that they will feel comfortable. We will also be organizing various activities and events geared toward socializing the students and offering staff and families a chance to become acquainted. The Committee will be addressing staff members separately to discuss the best strategies for welcoming students, helping them become acclimated to their new school buildings, and letting them know that they have plenty of support."
group Save K-L Schools, which has opposed closing LES, issued
a statement following
the vote. It is critical of the board members who voted for the
closure and looks ahead.
Save K-L Schools states: "We have learned two important things in this process. One, we are lucky to live in a community full of talented, caring people who are proud of Lewisboro and want what's best for it. And two, that unfortunately these people do not matter to the Board of Education. Over the protest of thousands, five people put the nails in the coffin of Lewisboro Elementary: Charles Day. Stephanie Tobin. Peter Treyz. Richard Stone. Janet Harckham."
The group also gives a recap of its outreach efforts, including a petition, and its social media presence.