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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 17, 2011

At BCSD, study complete
Clarksville on the line

By Saranac Hale Spencer

CLARKSVILLE — The estimated $900,000 that the Bethlehem Central School District would save by closing the Clarksville Elementary School would nearly cover the remaining $1 million gap it is anticipating in next year’s budget.

In a presentation to the school board last night, district Superintendent Michael Tebbano sketched out some of the options available to the board, which had asked him to research the impacts of closing Clarksville’s elementary school and the district offices.

He outlined five options, including: the closure of the Clarksville school, either this year or next; redistricting to more evenly distribute students to the district’s six elementary schools; making no change at all; and closing the Elsmere Elementary School, which he researched at the request of district residents.

At the start of his presentation, Tebbano told the board and the crowd in the nearly-full middle school auditorium that he had received hate mail since the idea of closing the school had been broached.  “This debate in the next few weeks has the potential to be emotionally charged,” he said, asking people to remember that the discussion should focus on children, not “four walls and a roof.”

Before Tebbano began, during a public-comment section, a Clarksville parent asked how the district’s budget had ballooned from $65 million in the 2005-06 school year, to the projected $90 million for the coming school year — a 39 percent increase.

“Why don’t we just say what it is,” Tebbano said, referring to the salaries for teachers and administrators.  As with most districts, salaries and benefits make up about 75 percent of the current year’s budget.  Tebbano cited the district’s contractual agreements with its employees and said that, in order to attract talented people, the school has to pay well.

He also cited increases in the cost of living.  Cost-of-living adjustments set by the Social Security Administration since 2005 have fluctuated between 2 percent and 6 percent.

“It is not our motive to dishonor or tarnish the Clarksville community,” Tebbano said at the beginning of his presentation.  “I think Clarksville Elementary is a wonderful school,” he said of the rural school located in the town of New Scotland — the rest of the district’s facilities are located in Bethlehem.

The total amount the district would save by closing the school, Tebbano said, would be $891,970, which would include the $3,700 cost of upkeep while the building is “mothballed.”  He estimated the market value of the building at $3.5 million, but did not recommend selling it.

The roughly 200 students who attend Clarksville would be split between the Slingerlands and Eagle elementary schools, he said.

Making that change would affect only Clarksville families he said, while redistricting all areas to even out attendance would affect families around the whole of the district.  Each of the six elementary schools has class sizes of between 20 and 25 students, according to a chart Tebbano showed last night.  Clarksville, which has the smallest student population of the schools, has the smallest class sizes.  Tebbano asked why one school should have an advantage with fewer students.

The redistricting option Tebbano outlined would cost $40,000, since the district would need to hire a consultant.  Redistricting would offer no budgetary savings.

Closing Elsmere, which is located on Delaware Avenue in Delmar, would result in approximately the same amount of savings as closing Clarksville, but would require redistricting, Tebbano said.

The district expanded its facilities with additions to existing schools, including Clarksville, and the construction of a new elementary school after voters approved a $93 million bond issue in 2003.  At the time, said Tebbano, who was not yet superintendent, the district was expecting more residential development and higher enrollment in the schools.  That didn’t come to pass.

Since enrollment has stagnated and there is no sign of an increase, said a Feura Bush resident who is a bus driver for the district, the board should consider selling the school building it will close, so it should also consider which building would be most marketable.  He pointed out that both Elsmere and Glenmont elementary schools are located in business districts.

During the public-comment section following the presentation, school board President James Dering said, “We’re hearing that this is a done deal — nothing could be further from the truth.”

The feasibility report that Tebbano summarized at last night’s meeting is available on the district’s website and there are forums to discuss it scheduled for March 7 and March 21 at 7 p.m. at the middle school.  The board plans to make a decision by its March 30 meeting.

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