The possible closure of Lewisboro Elementary School was attacked again by parents at what was the second closure public hearing.
The hearing, held Monday morning at John Jay Middle School, was tense and times and marked by shouts from the audience. Parents' frustrations ranged from transitioning to disruption of community character and property values, to whether the process is being rushed. Several attendees came with protest signs, which they repeatedly held up.
There was also some questioning about the district's demographic data, which shows a previously steep decline in enrollment and is a continuing trend. It was suggested that, for example, housing resales be taken into consideration and noted that the market is recovering. A steep decline in student enrollment is a main reason for why the district is considering moving from four elementary schools to just three.
Melissa Luper, an LES mom, explained that as a parent she wants to know if her child is ok.
“So if my child's unhappy, I'm miserable,” she said.
Susan Lasota, a mother of three kids at LES, wants impact to the South Salem community to be considered, along with disclosure of class size data by school.
One woman said it is “a lot harder to facilitate a sense of community here without a school.”
“That is all that this area really basically has to center itself, is a school,” she said.
Board members who are on the district's school closure task force committee also insisted that their minds are not made up.
“We're still looking into it,” board member Richard Stone said about the process.
The task force is expected to file a draft educational impact statement with the full school board by Dec. 19, with another public hearing to follow before a vote is taken on Jan. 23, 2014, which would be to decide whether to close LES for the 2014-15 school year.
Kathryn Casavant asked Superintendent Paul Kreutzer about remarks he made during the first public hearing, held on Oct. 8, that a school was not being closed because money was needed, and that the district was in good financial shape. In response, Kreutzer gave the context of his earlier remarks, which referred to how a closure of LES is not needed to help with the 2014-15 budget. However, he warned about the district's future financial picture, noting the tax cap. Having experienced a tax-cap environment since 1993, counting his years in Wisconsin, he called its impact a "slow erosion of quality over time.”
“It chocked a lot of school districts,” Kreutzer said about New York's tax cap, which has been in place since 2011.
Kreutzer also noted, referring to his remark previously about efficiency being a factor, that it relates to having an efficient format that will slow down regression for education.
Even with three schools, the intent is to continue to provide a quality education.
Casavant, who asked about the impact to her kids, asked whether her kids will have better access to technology and the to a better execution of the new common core curriculum.
“You bet they will, more than today, certainly," Kreutzer replied.
Casavant, still skeptical, then asked if she could assume neither of her children would be enrolled in a class where a teacher lacks a full understanding of the common core. Kreutzer could not get into further detail but promise to help the district keep its place, referring to its academic quality.
Looking at the district's overall financial picture, board member and task force chair Janet Harckham considered other measures being done or discussed, such as changing the insurance system for employees and current teachers' union negotiations.
“To me this is not a hard question. It's all of the above,” she said in referring to solutions. The consolidation would be intended to help provide a better education overall.
Karen Lustig asked whether housing resales are being taken into account. Michael Jumper, assistant superintendent for business, replied that housing transaction information has been shared with the demographer, who is expected to have an updated report soon. There will be information about vacancy rates, including a 100-percent occupancy scenario. However, Jumper explained that there is no tracking agency determining whether school-age children are included in a home sale.
Brooke Andrews suggested looking at transportation spending as a possible savings for the district, which does its busing in-house. Some school districts that the Katonah-Lewisboro compares itself to in metrics, such as Chappaqua and Bedford, have contracted busing. However, officials noted that the in-house status will not be changed because of its related labor arrangement.
Sherry Levinwallach, a Meadow Pond Elementary School (MPES) parent, suggested that if a closure decision is made, that consideration be given of using savings for things that had previously been cut. The figure is $2,250,000 to $2,960,000 annually but some have questioned whether the savings is worth it given the overall budget number.
Colleen McLafferty, a South Salem resident and parent of three John Jay High School graduates, noted the major experiences that happened in the past, such as an enrollment explosion and crowding, construction projects, redistricting and a busing change. She called for empathy for empty nesters given the tax burden. There was then a shout from the audience that she would not be getting a tax break.
The school closure task force's next public hearing will be on Nov. 6 at 1 p.m. and will also be held at the middle school, the district announced, while the task force will hold its next meeting on Nov. 12. More information is at this link on the school district's website.