School leaders must weigh possible benefits in closing Altamont Elementary against the deleterious but more intangible effects on our community

To the Editor:

I commend Dr. Marie Wiles for her efforts and initiating the building capacity use study. Beginning her role as superintendent of Guilderland Central School District four years ago, she has performed admirably in a tough economic climate; she has navigated us with sincerity and deliberation through these past years’ budget deficits.

However, I think it would be a poor decision to recommend closing Altamont Elementary. 

At the community meeting Monday night, a longtime resident of Altamont expressed concern for the impact on the community of closing the elementary school, and said that the school is a reason people move to Altamont.

The educational consultant conducting the study,  Paul Seversky, replied to the effect that people generally move to the area because of its designated school district; they move because Guilderland school district has a solid reputation.

From firsthand experience, I strongly disagree.  My husband and I moved to Altamont five years ago with two small children and one on the way.   We did our homework: We researched the school online, we visited the school, we talked with parents whose children had or were currently attending the school.

We moved to Altamont because we believed this school was a great place for our children to begin their education. We moved to Altamont because of the wonderfully positive and conspicuous sense of community here.

We've lived many places over the years, and can't remember living anywhere where residents unanimously spoke so highly about their community and local school.  The terms  “Altamont community” and “Altamont Elementary” are not interchangeable, but they are perhaps inseparable .    

The decision will ultimately rest with the board of education members.  I sympathize that they, Dr. Wiles, and the senior administration have difficult decisions ahead.  Responsible and conscientious decisions will require more information and community input.  More data should be available to the residents as well.

Specifically, the following would provide for more informed discussions over the coming months:

— Economic impact study evaluating anticipated impact on property values for not only homes in the Altamont Elementary catchment, but each of the other four elementary schools as well.  

— Please provide data available from other districts on annual enrollment of new students five years and beyond implementation of the Princeton model (buildings serving paired/grouped grades for the entire district).  Closing the school budget may be an attractive short-term gain, but might we be decreasing the desirability of GCSD long term?

— If Guilderland will decrease to a four-elementary-school district, more specifics are warranted on the closed fifth school.  As renting or selling are the two likely options for the building, what are the projected rental and listing values for each school?  These figures may prove significant in the process of selecting the best option for the district.

— More information on driving distances.  Two of the scenarios presented entail divvying the grades between four elementary schools.  If students from the western area of Altamont's catchment are bused over 45 minutes to Westmere, is this acceptable to the district? Acceptable to the board of education? 

In closing, we understand that our district leadership is fighting hard to remain fiscally sound in a trend of underwhelming state aid.  Based on the findings of this recent building capacity study, scenarios are on the table that may greatly impact the children and residents of this district.

Dr. Wiles and the senior administration will deliberate all existing and any forthcoming options, the board of education will receive their recommendation.  Throughout this process, we urge them to weigh any possible benefits gained from closing Altamont’s physical structure on Grand Street to the deleterious but more intangible effects on our community.

We urge them to join us at Jelly Bean Field Day this Friday.  We urge them to join Principal Peter Brabant, teachers, parents, and students for his weekly walking bus from the village park to Altamont Elementary.  We urge them to speak with many Altamont parents and non-parents alike.  In so doing, Altamont may not ultimately have to bear the figurative cost to our community and the literal price of decreasing property values. 

Jodi and Aaron Wey

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