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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 6, 2011

Sheriff has a fruitful plan for the apple of Clarksville’s eye

The Clarksville Elementary School, once the proud center of a community, now sits empty. The Bethlehem School Board, in a split vote last March, went against the superintendent’s recommendation and against the board president’s call for further study.

Looking to close a million-dollar budget gap, the board shuttered the rural school — its only one in New Scotland — and is now busing its 200 or so students to two other elementary schools in suburban Bethlehem.

Just last month, the historic hamlet got word that its post office will close, too.

Both the school and the post office are critical institutions not just for convenience but also for defining a community.

However, there’s now some good news on the horizon for Clarksville.

Craig Apple, Albany County’s acting sheriff, has proposed leasing the school to serve as a substation. He wants to consolidate all of his department’s investigative units, advanced life support, patrol units, and Stop-DWI units at the school, moving in by the first quarter of 2012. This would be good for the county and its taxpayers since it would streamline operations and reduce costs.

And it would be good for the school district and its taxpayers, too. Instead of having to pay to maintain a school that no one is using, the district could be collecting rent. Bethlehem School district taxpayers are still paying the bond on the ill timed $2.9 million expansion of the school as it sits empty.

How many agencies or businesses would find the school location desirable? Without a tenant, the 1948 brick building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is likely to be neglected.

With one critical caveat, we believe that Apple’s proposal would be good for Clarksville as well. That caveat is: The lease must be written in such a way that, when the school district is ready to re-open the school, it will be available.

The outgoing superintendent, Michael Tebbano, told our New Scotland reporter, Saranac Hale Spencer, who broke the story this week, that the first priority for the building is to make it into a school as soon as the population requires it.

We applaud this sentiment. Research has shown that small community schools work best; indeed, that was the original philosophy in centralizing the Bethlehem district. We believe the district made a mistake with the $93 million bond vote in 2003 that built Eagle, its largest elementary school, and expanded Clarksville.

Aside from the community’s emotional attachment to the Clarksville school, evident in the hundreds who turned out at board meetings last winter, the scores from state-required exams attested to the school’s success. The School Report Card from the state showed students at Clarksville — with 96 percent or higher in the top three quadrants — were well ahead of state averages and also ahead of Bethlehem averages in all testing areas.

Moving the Clarksville students could save substantial amounts of money only if staff were cut, meaning class sizes would be raised at the other schools — always a challenge for teachers and usually a formula for less learning and lower scores.

Apple told us he is hoping to get a five-year lease with an option to extend for five years. That sounds workable to us.

“I don’t want to force this on them,” Apple said of the Clarksville community. He plans next month to hold a public meeting — a wise idea — to gauge support for the plan. We think having a sheriff’s substation in Clarksville would be good for the hamlet. Staffers would frequent the local business — from restaurants to mechanics — and cops can add to a sense of stability and community. Apple told us the sheriff’s office would maintain the lawn and playground for local kids to use, and it would keep a community room for local use — both good things for Clarksville and its sense of community.

Marie Hornick, a Clarksville resident active last winter in lobbying to keep the school open, put it well and succinctly when she told us this week, “If it can’t be an elementary school for the kids of Clarksville, it’s good to have it in use.”

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