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School Board Majority Inclined to Back LES Closure

Patch File Photo: LES.
Patch File Photo: LES.
(This story was published on Dec. 11, 2013 and has been updated)

Five of the Katonah-Lewisboro school board's seven members are either leaning towards support for closing Lewisboro Elementary School or are in favor outright.

The feedback came after board member Stephanie Tobin, who supports closing LES in 2014, asked for their preferences at Thursday's meeting. Of the members in the majority, Peter Treyz also backs a closure, while Richard Stone is likely to support it. Board member Janet Harckham is leaning in favor, as is President Charles Day.

Board Vice President Marjorie Schiff and member Jeff Holbrook appeared to be undecided. In Holbrook's case it was over whether there is enough capacity for the next school year, while Schiff wondered whether the next school year is the time for it.

Schiff, who serves on the School Closure Task Force along with Stone and Harckham, did agree with the general notion of closing LES, which is being considered due to years of declining elementary school-level enrollment and more projected.

Administrators believe there were will be enough room for the next school year.

The board members' remarks came after there was discussion about a draft educational impact statement, which was the meeting's primary topic. The document gives an overview of closing LES and includes factors such as projected savings and redistricting.

The discussion about the document came after a statement from Superintendent Paul Kreutzer, who endorsed an LES closure for 2014 along with his cabinet. 

In his remarks early in the meeting, Kreutzer outlined Katonah-Lewisboro's overall financial condition, noting years of falling enrollment and how the district spends a lot per pupil.

“We cannot stay on this path and accomplish our mission," said Kreutzer, who believes an LES closure would be beneficial overall.

The document estimates that closing LES, which is one of the district's four elementary schools, would save about $1.9 million annually. Up to $95,000 is anticipated for the transition cost, which would include moving the district's administrative office space out of Increase Miller Elementary School (IMES), which has space that would be needed due to redistricting. More than $3 million would be saved next year, according to the document's projection, when job cuts from attrition are factored in, although that savings is not recurring.

A major topic of discussion at the meeting had to do with redistricting. The document, which uses 2013-14 student enrollment for a model, has 165 LES kids being placed in IMES, 118 switching to Meadow Pond Elementary School (MPES) and 67 going to Katonah Elementary School (KES).

The redistricting model is the product of work involving a district transportation official and demographer Richard Grip, who predicts the trend of falling enrollment to continue for several more years. Some board members expressed interest in revisiting the redistricting, leaving the possibility of an altered scenario being given. Splitting neighborhoods and bus timing were also discussed.

Busing models were presented for a 3-school scenario. Times would generally go up, although an alternate model with two additional routes would serve to mitigate it to some extent. Michael Jumper, the district's assistant superintendent for business, suggested that further mitigation was possible, which could be done with savings from eliminating mid-day bussing if full-day kindergarten is added.

The school board will revisit the topic at its Dec. 19 meeting, when it will take a major procedural vote. That vote involves giving a preliminary approval, which continues the review process. A public hearing would be held in January and then a final vote on whether to close LES would be held on Jan. 23.

While there is a majority interested in voting in favor, some board members gave fears.

Day wondered about what if the demography is wrong. However, after Day mentioned anecdotal feedback, he did not think it's likely that LES will need to be reopened in the near future. Harckham is concerned about having to close another school in the future, which was a scenario looked at by the task force earlier this year before it was dropped in favor of just closing one building.

The board meeting came during a week of rising tensions due to several vehicles going into the MPES driving area during the morning period, an act meant to bring attention to redistricting-induced traffic. 

Day was not sure that the school board, if there is waiting for another school year, would want to act. The behavior of some of the local opposition is a factor in his assumption.

Day, speaking with Patch, characterized some of the opposition as a “very small minority" and added that there have been people against closing the school who have apologized for their behavior.

Details of the document are at this link.
Kathleen Martin December 11, 2013 at 10:49 AM
As of this morning, we have 800 signatures on a petition against closing LES and asking the BOE to 1) suspend the current process, and 2) establish a new process & timeline that properly, fully and inclusively (of our community) addresses all relevant issues. We believe that LES closure is being made with insufficient & inaccurate data. To learn more, please visit our website at http://www.saveKLschools.org. Please also join us and sign the petition at the below link! http://www.change.org/petitions/we-ask-the-boe-to-1-suspend-the-current-sctf-process-and-2-establish-a-new-process-timeline-that-properly-fully-and-inclusively-of-our-community-addresses-all-relevant-issues?share_id=ulZqxVQwTB&utm_campaign=mailto_link

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