The Katonah-Lewisboro School District’s School Utilization Committee agrees that there is no question the district must shutter at least one of its schools.
What they aren’t sure about is if they should close one or two, and which of the schools would close its doors in order to potentially save a few million dollars and support full-time kindergarten.
“We’re not running our schools efficiently and there was a general consensus that we do need to close at least one school,” said Janet Harckham, a school board member who is the committee chair, at a presentation on the committee's findings during Thursday's school board meeting.
study commissioned by the district showed enrollment could decrease to as
low as 2,965 students in 2016-17, down from the district’s peak of around 4,000
students. Enrollment is currently at 3,466 students, with projections—based on
survival estimates and birthrates—as low as 2,434 for the 2021-22 school year.
The School Utilization Committee was created to study the impacts and costs savings made from efficiently using the district’s facilities. The committee is mostly made up of school board members, district administrators and staff; as well as some parents and community members.
Harckham said that many members of the group, in addition to their role in the school district, were also taxpayers and parents.
“We had a diverse group bringing a lot of different mind sets to the group,” said Harckham.
All of the scenarios explored by the district assume the district will run full-time kindergarten. The committee first sought how they could best deliver services within six school buildings without having to make students transition quickly or more than twice.
After ruling out several options (which can be found in a PDF on the committee’s findings here) the committee narrowed it to two.
Option 1, also known as Model 6, would close one elementary school and operate three kindergarten through fifth grade schools; a middle (6-8) and high school (9-12).
This would result in cost savings, less disruption across the district as the middle and high schools are unaffected and the elementary school structure is unchanged. Teachers wouldn’t have to jump around from one school to the next as much.
It will, however, require redistricting. There would also be less flexibility with accommodating full-time kindergarten.
“We can accommodate a shift of full day kindergarten, but there are not as many classrooms available,” said Ashley Murphy of the Katonah-Lewisboro Parent Council. “But it still accommodates it.”
This option would offer less savings than Options 2 (Model 5), which would close two elementary schools and operate kindergarten through fourth grade in two elementary schools, while the middle school would house grades fifth through eighth and the high school grade ninth through twelfth.
This option would results in the greatest cost savings, as well as an even class size across the elementary schools. Students could have earlier access to world language, science labs, guidance counselors, clubs; it could potentially facilities delivery of special education; a “district-wide identity” could be developed earlier; and there are more possible opportunities for mentoring. This model would also accommodate the shift to full day kindergarten.
“We ensure that the fifth graders could fit in the middle school,” said Murphy. “We ensure that the K-4 could fit into two elementary schools, but some of the schools are a bit tight. But they do fit in there, with a little room to spare.”
She stressed that rumors that specific schools were already targeted to be closed were untrue and that the topic was never discussed. This plan would also require redistricting and would impact transportation.
The district would also have to ensure that the social, emotional and developmental needs of 10-year-olds were being met. The district would also probably have to build a playground for fifth graders at the middle school; and sort out how lunch and recess would fit into the students’ schedule.
The district would also have to figure out if fifth grade would be more like sixth grade with a homeroom scenario and which middle school grades would have interaction with each other.
All cost saving scenarios assume that there will be a 70 percent reduction in utilities; buildings will not be sold or bring in revenue; class size remains the same under the low estimate and be at half way between the district’s goal at the high estimate; at least 10 sections of full-time kindergarten; and includes renovations and transportation.
Superintendent Dr. Paul Kreutzer said that the numbers also assume reductions in staffing, with an expected reduction of 18 FTE positions that will be lost through attrition by 2017. The district would either spend about $324,061 to have full-time kindergarten without closing any schools or save up to around $3 million by closing two.
Click here for a breakdown of the cost savings analysis and presentation of the committee's findings.
The district will create a School Closure Task Force to further study the two options, as well as state required procedures for closing a school.
“We what to do this very methodically and not surprise anyone or the community,” said Kreutzer. “We’ve done the majority of the work, but the hard work it so come. It’s not easy to see the school you love needing to be dismantled. What I can say is that the education will not be dismantled.”