The Katonah-Lewisboro School Closure Task Force is now meeting and has several major items as part of its review process.
Board member Janet Harckham, who is on the task force, gave an update to the school board at its Thursday meeting and gave a recap of the group's first meeting, which was held on Aug. 27. The meeting involved covering basic items that have been discussed previously by the school board, such as the task force's charge. However, Harckham noted that there was discussion about the first major item for the process, which is to get data on whether students are located and which grades they are in. With the help of a GIS program, data collected will be used to determine how to redistrict elementary school attendance lines.
The school district is considering closure of as many as two of its four elementary schools amid a large drop in enrollment over recent years. A 1-school closure would involve having the remaining three schools in a K-5 configuration. However, with a 2-school closure scenario, fifth graders would be moved to John Jay Middle School, leaving the elementary schools in a K-4 configuration.
Harckham also noted that data needs to be better regarding students fitting into schools, saying there is a need to have "really hard data on how many students fit into each elementary school rather than sort of soft data.”
Harckham also noted that the real estate implications, which involve what can be done for use of closed schools, need to be looked into.
Work is still early for the committee, which meets again today and on Oct. 8 before another update will be presented to the school board at its Oct. 3 meeting.
“As of yet, we've still done nothing," Harckham said to her colleagues on Thursday.
In addition, the first of several public hearings will be held on Oct. 8. A total of two hearings are set for October and two more for November. The task force is expected to present a report to the school board with its recommendation by Dec. 19, with another hearing being held in January before a vote from the board.
Board member Stephanie Tobin felt that more information should be given to the public for their participation in the hearings. She cited the need to know more about moving fifth grade to a middle school as one item.
“We're going to try to do just that," replied Harckham, who noted the task force is still early in its process.
Board member Peter Treyz wondered about whether the downward enrollment trend will hold.
“The demographics of this whole thing is really going to be a moving target," he said.
Harckham replied that the downward trend is continuing, and that a large influx of new families, “is just going to barely get us back to flat.”
The task force also has a special section under the district's website.
Task Force Meetings Closed to Public
Meanwhile, district officials have decided not to have the task force meetings open to the public or to the press. However, minutes of the meetings will be available online.
In the minutes for the Aug. 27 meeting, the rationale for keeping the meetings closed includes the fact that board members do not represent the task force's majority and that the group does not have authority for decision making.
When the question is posed in the minutes about whether the meetings are open, the following response is given: "No, Board of Education members do not comprise the majority of the Task Force; the Task Force does not have final decision making authority; these meetings are not "required" by NYS, they are recommended."