Parents took time during the Katonah-Lewisboro school board's public comment period to criticize the possible closure of Lewisboro Elementary School, raising concerns also brought up at a public hearing the prior week.
Concerns included disruption, questioning of the demographic data provided, fears of reduced property values or busing, and how the process is being handled.
“You've got one of the crown jewels in your hands," said Denis Hickey. "The people who came before you built a great school district. Don't screw it up.”
Lynne Geaney, a mother of three kids at LES and a fourth slated to join next year, questioned whether kids who are displaced will be able to handle it.
“Our kids will not just adjust,” she said.
Geaney also called on the board to suspend the process and to disband the school closure task force, which is tasked with studying the issue, and to start over with a process that she believes would be more transparent and has engagement of all community stakeholders.
Several parents questioned whether the savings of a closure, which is projected by the district to be $2,250,000 to $2,960,000 annually, is worth it.
Parent Carmen Delessio warned officials not to rush the process, which was a complaint voiced by a number of attendees at last week's public hearing.
“Don't be lead down a path of speed over quality. Slow down, we can learn a lot with a two-year delay.”
Delessio, noting the fact that 20-year enrollment data is now available, also argued that there is double-counting in it.
The school board is considering a closure of LES due to a precipitous drop in enrollment in recent years, with efficiency cited.
Lorranie Gallagher read a letter from her sixth-grade child, who is now in middle school but previously attended LES. The letter describes missing LES and likening it to another home.
Michael Heath raised concerns about higher class size, longer busing times and what the impact could be on demand if the school district implements full-day kindergarten.
Opposing speakers were greeted with applause, and several attendees brought protest signs.
Before the public forum, board members warned that the format is different from the hearings, where dialogue is allowed. In the case of forums, which are limited to three minutes per speaker, the board does not intend to immediately respond.
“We are not going to have a back and forth," said board member and task force chair Janet Harckham.
School Board Appoints Ex-Parent Council President to Task Force
In a concession to a request made at the hearing for more representation on the task force, the school board voted to include former parent council president Ashley Murphy as its newest member. Murphy, who is also an LES parent, was president during the 2012-13 school year and served on the school utilization committee, which was the task force's predecessor entity that recommended further inquiry into closing a school.
Harckham cited continuity as the reason for who was selected.
Talking with Patch after the meeting, Murphy feels that she can not only represent Lewisboro but also represent the other schools. She wants to make sure that there is a enough data that is solid to back up things.
While the board granted a representative concession, it did not act on a request to make task force meetings open to the public. Harckham, in justifying the reason, explained that not every person is used to doing public meetings and noted that it is hard to do work. The task force is not legally obligated to make its meetings public because it does not have a majority of the school board present, it was explained previously.
Demographic, Transportation Updates Coming
Harckham, who gave several status updates and noted that the task force met on Oct. 15, said that updated enrollment projections are expected by late October. The data will be based on information that is as of Oct. 1. A redistricting model with three elementary schools instead of the current four is anticipated by Nov. 1.
Required work will be at hand by Thanksgiving that will help in figuring out where redistricting lines would be drawn. It will include historical data under a scenario of if there were three schools, along with a 5-year projection. Additionally, the transportation department is currently working on a model that involves three elementary schools. Harckham noted that it is a draft model.
Another public hearing is scheduled for Monday at 10 a.m. at John Jay Middle School's auditorium. The task force is expected to deliver a report to the school board by Dec. 19, which will vote on Jan. 23.