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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 10, 2011

Residents and town super rally against Clarksville school closing

By Saranac Hale Spencer

CLARKSVILLE — As Bethlehem’s school board nears its March 30 deadline for deciding whether it will shut an elementary school in an effort to close its $1 million budget gap, community members, largely from Clarksville, weighed in at a forum on Monday.

The Clarksville Elementary School, which is the Bethlehem School District’s only building located in the town of New Scotland, is being considered for closure, along with the district’s office building and Elsmere Elementary School in Delmar.

Bethlehem Superintendent Michael Tebbano estimated that there were roughly 500 residents involved in the forum, between the crowd in the middle school auditorium and those participating in the webcast.  The majority of those who spoke favored maintaining the small, rural school.

Among them was New Scotland Supervisor Thomas Dolin, who read notes regarding the tax burden borne by residents of Clarksville, arguing that they cover the cost of operating the school plus the students contribute to a portion of the state aid that comes into the district.

“Closing this school appears financially attractive, not because it is a burden to the district, but because it will allow the tax revenue generated by residents of Clarksville who live in the town of New Scotland to be diverted to paying for the operation of Eagle Elementary and Slingerlands Elementary,” Dolin said, referring to the two schools between which Clarksville’s students would be split.  “This is not what these residents were promised when Eagle was built,” he said.

The Eagle school was built after voters approved a $93 million bond issue in 2003, which also included additions to the Clarksville school and others in the district, on the assumption that the student population would grow.

“For Tom Dolin to get up and say we’ve already made the decision is insulting,” Tebbano said yesterday, maintaining that the board has not yet decided if it will close the school.  Asked what the district would do if it chose not to close one of its buildings, Tebbano said, “The backup plan might be something like raising taxes” or using more money from the fund balance.  Most likely, he said, it would be a combination of the two.

The expected $91.6 million budget for next year includes cutting over 40 jobs and using $2.5 million from the fund balance.

One Clarksville parent at Monday’s forum summarized the list of options currently under consideration by the board as:  close Clarksville, close Clarksville, nothing, nothing, or close Elsmere.

The options, listed A through E by the district, that the board is considering includes closing Clarksville this year, closing Clarksville next year, redistricting, making no change, or closing Elsmere.

The parent pointed out that redistricting or making no change (C and D) don’t save the district any money.

In a report from Tebbano exploring the list of options, the savings to the district for closing Clarksville is estimated at $895,670.  The savings for energy and maintenance is estimated at $84,000; the rest is personnel costs:

— $325,000 for 4.8 full-time teaching positions;

— $143,470 for the principal;

— $60,000 for the nurse;

— $70,000 for two full-time clerical positions;

— $120,000 for 2.25 full-time custodial workers;

— $60,000 for two full-time kitchen workers;

— and $33,200 for four full-time noon aids.

The jobs would be cut, according to seniority, across the district and workers reassigned.  Some teachers would be moved to the Eagle and Slingerlands schools to accommodate the additional students from Clarksville.

Asked if the same number of cuts could be made across the district while keeping the $84,000 to maintain the open building, Tebbano said yesterday that it wouldn’t work because the building would need to have a principal and a nurse.  Consolidating schools allows the district to cut more positions, he said.

Although the district has 13 principals for its eight buildings — six elementary schools, a middle school, and a high school — that altogether house roughly 5,000 students, the district is administratively lean, Tebbano said.  Bethlehem has one principal at each elementary school; a principal, assistant principal, and house leader at its middle school; and a principal, an assistant principal, and two other administrators at the high school.

“Right now we are appropriately staffed and we are very lean,” he said.

The closure of a school can be an emotional issue, Tebbano said, stressing that the district is under pressure in the midst of a recession.  He isn’t recommending that the district sell one of its school buildings, he said, because “I’m not predicting we’re not going to need the building.”

He noted that, if New Scotland were to get access to water in the Clarksville area, there would likely be development, which would likely necessitate a school.

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