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Katonah-Lewisboro Considers Closing Two Schools

Superintendent Dr. Paul Kreutzer at Thursday's meeting.
Superintendent Dr. Paul Kreutzer at Thursday's meeting.

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.

A 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.”

 

Lisa Buchman (Editor) June 21, 2013 at 09:22 PM
Lots of options here - are you favoring any?
Pete Nice June 21, 2013 at 09:59 PM
In a radical departure, I'm going to suggest we stop paying schoolteachers not to work until they die after they've retired from the 9 month a year job from which they can never be fired after performing acceptably for a short period of time. I'd also suggest they begin contributing to their own retirement accounts and medical benefits in a way that even vaguely resembles the conditions under which nearly every private sector employee in this country toils.
Lisa Messineo June 21, 2013 at 11:24 PM
Just a note... 'Guidance counselor' is actually a very outdated title. It is 'school counselor'. I have to say it would be sad to see my elementary school (KES) close, but I'm sure if taxes were lower we would get some more young families to move here. I guess that stems to how we decide to budget our money in the first place.
dave watanabe June 22, 2013 at 10:26 AM
"we're not running our schools efficiently" . . . . . is an understatment and what the taxpayers have known for decades. It seems to me, that recently there was a discussion, perhaps even a vote, (I didn't keep up), to make improvements and add additions to many of these schools, wasn't there? I know the K -6 school on Huntville Road added an addition with a greenhouse about 3 years ago and now, maybe it will be the one to close? The board must have run projected population statistics before they did this expensive work, or maybe not. It seems the only thing the well paid board is good at is spending more unplanned money instead of looking at the big picture and how our kids can get the best education possible which, should be pretty good considering the tax dollars our communities contribute.
Mark Dembo June 22, 2013 at 01:54 PM
Um, Dave --- interesting point, but the board is not paid... they are volunteers. And, not sure exactly what "unplanned" money you are referring to. We've put 2 kids through KES - the "school in Huntville Road" you mention - (which is K-5, not K-6) and I am not aware of any "addition" they have put on that school in the past 8 years....
Alexandra Williams June 22, 2013 at 06:31 PM
I tink the greenhouse was added to KES in about 1996 or 1997? It was already a few years old in 2000 when my first child started at KES. The addition to the school was completed before then as well. The school population at KES was about 500 for a while and has started to fall in the last 4 years or so. My second child graduated KES in 2008 and her class was particularly large. My youngest is KES 2013 and her class is much smaller, almost 20 less students in her grade. It is very interesting to note that in the 1980s (1983) a friend said that Lewisboro Elementary was scheduled to be closed because of a falling population but remained open. I have heard that one of the reasons that the population is falling here is because residents are holding on to their houses until the market comes back and they can recoup their investment. If this happens it is possible that we will experience a surge in the student population and have to reopen a school at some point.
katonah 19 June 23, 2013 at 12:26 PM
Dave - The greenhouse was paid for by fundraising efforts of the PTO (the parents), not the school district as was the playground (also the parents). The part time greenhouse coordinator is also paid by the PTO. KES has had maintenance work done over the last ten years, but no additions. I urge you to get informed and get involved. Board of Education meetings aren't just for parents, they are for all taxpayers in the community.
George Smith June 24, 2013 at 08:47 AM
Based on the stats I dont think KES will be one of the schools as they seem to have fairly level enrollment through 2017 - it has declined from the peak but it is not declining at 10-20% annually like the other schools. Who knows though! I think higher home prices will drive young families back to the district and have the older (college age) families moving out.
D.S. June 29, 2013 at 09:53 AM
I read a lot of the comments above and have to shake my head in disbelief... We have seen the rampant spending for years...I have been complaining for years....yet every time the budget comes around it passes...Forward thinking is mentioned...how about the forward thinking that if we don't do something to lower taxes our enrollment will go down because we are making it too expensive for people with children to attend school here.....and here we go again...enrollment is estimated to go down substantially and our school board is entertaining the idea of full day kindergarden.....it's bad enough that the kindergarden children get door to door service in the morning when they go to school and in the afternoon when school ends...it used to be that you have to take your child to the bus stop...I for one am tired of paying extra taxes for these services so that households with 2 working people don't have to get a sitter.....At the rate our taxes keep going up it won't be long before you can close all the elementary schools, because the middle scholl will suffice as the elementary school and JJHS will encompass the middle and high school kids because your overspending will have chased people with children to another school district. It costs more than $34,000 a year per student here now ( at least 8 thousand more than other districts) how much more do you think folks can afford? Before long you'll have teachers with nobody to teach......! ! !

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