School Board Approves LES Closure, Redistricting

Carmen Delessio, an LES dad who has spoken out against the closure, gives remarks to the board.
Carmen Delessio, an LES dad who has spoken out against the closure, gives remarks to the board.

(This 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. 

A 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."

The 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.

Bill Neary January 24, 2014 at 01:55 AM
In June, Day and Harckham are up for reelection. Get out and vote.
Michael Gordon January 24, 2014 at 05:17 AM
And if they choose to run, re-elect them. They and their colleagues who voted to close LES had the courage and conviction to act in the best interests of the kids who are struggling because their high school math class is so full the teacher can't spend time with them, the special needs kids who would do so much better if we could afford more staff to review IEPs, the kids who deserve to learn a language other than French, Spanish or Latin and to start learning that language before they are in middle school, the taxpayers who are being crushed by the size of our tax levy, and all of the potential home buyers who look elsewhere because our per pupil expense is so high. Their problems are not solvable unless our financial house is dramatically strengthened. And that doesn't happen if we spend $2 million annually operating a building we do not need to operate. Last night, the Board of Ed did what it was elected to do and spoke for those people, who might not have organized themselves and might not have spoken up in a public way but whose interests deserved to be respected. The Board, led by Charles, as President, and Janet, as Chair of the Task Force, could easily have given in and punted for a year. That would have been the politically expedient thing to do. And then next year's Board would again be hit with the same request for a delay, and that Board could postpone its decision. And nothing would get done. Charles and Janet led the Board to do the opposite and take action now that will have the effect of strengthening our school district for the benefit of all of our students and taxpayers for many years to come.
Ross Revira January 24, 2014 at 07:36 AM
Thanks to the BOE members who stood up to the vocal minority for the benefit of the entire district. They have shown what real leadership is all about. I hope the people who were against the closure come together and make this transition work smoothly.
Shari Rossi January 24, 2014 at 08:16 AM
Michael, it's a good thing they aren't prosecutors because their case was not made in any convincing way to a Jury of their peers. 1,000 people would have been on their side if their stoic arrogance had not been so demeaning to the Community; but it was. That's wholly unfortunate for everyone. Where friends could have banded together, instead, strangers united at the opaque insincerity of a Board of Community members who believe they were not accountable nor should they have to respond or respect the very civil, well-intentioned inquiries of the constituents this Board is supposed to represent. They failed miserably on that front. Where they could have united, they divided. The Community will heal, but the farce of a process they put on over the course of months was a dog and pony show and everyone in that room or on FB knows it.
Ross Revira January 24, 2014 at 09:42 AM
The district is far greater than the 1000 signatures on a petition signed by people from all over the country. To consider Face Book as any indication of what the entire district feels is naive or just plain arrogant with or without your degrees.
edgar cook January 24, 2014 at 09:49 AM
Micheal - "Their problems are not solvable unless our financial house is dramatically strengthened. And that doesn't happen if we spend $2 million annually operating a building we do not need to operate".. You have failed to read through the actions of our board regarding the closure...The superintent will now invest 5MM into the school that is closing. In addition, the dirstrict will continue to service north of 3mm in debt on the school that is being closed.. In addition, our board has taken on 7mm in new debt become Green, and 3MM to buy new buses. The wool is over your eyes.. Note that is 10mm in new debt at the same time the Board is pretending to be fiscally responsible.. 10mm is ~ 10% of our entire budget.. Lastly, one thing that was never discussed is the lower enrollment as parents choose Harvey over public schools.. 25% of lost enrollment was not population related, but instead Kruetzer failire to keep local kids in our public school (this is spelled out in Grip's hack report). Stone, Tobin, Day, Harkman turning the blind eye due to self indulgence. They have failed our children due to blatant disregard for fact and have put entirely too much faith in a demographer very theisis conflicts with his findings.. The entire process was a shame, and the most telling was Stone's objective to watch for a trend at his election. It was not even a year, and truth is he was pushing to close 2 bookend schools. True story.. Lie, get elected then self-serve!
Katonah family January 24, 2014 at 11:27 AM
Great words Michael and Ross. "Vocal minority" is a perfect term for the select few that have been running around yelling and causing dangerous traffic jams. This was the smart move for the district. The board did its job. Thank you to them.
edgar cook January 24, 2014 at 12:33 PM
Katonah family, Stone is coming after your school next.. Kreutzer already planting the seeds. Can't wait til you are the "vocal minority".
Katonah family January 24, 2014 at 01:02 PM
Ok Edgar, maybe I should get my petition website together and call my relatives across the country so I am prepared! Thanks for the tip!
Katonah family January 24, 2014 at 04:04 PM
This was a quote from the Save K-L Schools group, “Over the protest of thousands, they put the nails in the coffin of Lewisboro Elementary.” They had 1,061 people sign the petition. I guess if you round way up that number could be considered "thousands"? How many of those were actually residents? 150? Maybe 300? Maybe the other 18,000 residents of the district should have signed a "We support the closing" document and held our own meetings. We could have filled Madison Square Garden.
rene January 24, 2014 at 04:54 PM
The state board of Ed requires that the impact of the entire community be considered. The KLSD BOE did not prove their case. Mr Parsons representing the Lewisboro town board pointed this out. The board had no report from country children's center or from any of the other organizations who uses LES. There was no report on the increase insurance and fuel costs to maintain an empty building. There was no traffic assessment done either. What BOE would close a top ranked elementary school ?? The taxpayers are being told there will be a savings of 1.2m then 2m and another report of 1.5 m only proves they don't know themselves because in the end there will be no savings, especially after lawsuits start being filed. Why do you suppose the amount of the retainer for the district's attorney was increased for the current school year? The BOE is crying falling enrollment, so if that is the case, there is NO need for so many administrators, when are those jobs getting cut? As far as having adequate teachers for the high school, well, the students need to learn at the elementary level first, Mr. Gordon.
Ross Revira January 24, 2014 at 05:14 PM
It is amazing how so many education and legal experts have crawled out of the woodwork in the last six months. Where were these gifted experts the last four years when school board candidates were hard to come by?
rene January 24, 2014 at 05:40 PM
Ironic, historically, Katonah residents are the ones with the highest numbers of yes votes for passing the budget/higher taxes. Now that we've all had higher taxes all these years, now these same people are fighting for their "slated" $200 per family savings from the LES closure. The BOE's letter sent out to district families mentions how this school closure will strengthen our community, they couldn't be more wrong! Tax payers better hope that the district offices are moved back to Shady Lane or else we will be paying another $100k+ to move them again in another couple of years!


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