All facets should be explored to void consequences of closing any schools

To the Editor:

I wrote this letter to the members of the Guilderland Board of Education.

Was the result of the recent building capacity study pre-determined? One might assume that the Guilderland Board of Education and Superintendent Dr. Marie Wiles knew that Dr. Paul Seversky’s recommendation would be to close a school when they hired him for the building capacity study.

After all, that has been the resulting recommendation of all his studies that I have found. This includes the recent one he did for East Greenbush that was titled “Building Closure and Consolidation Study.”

As a resident of the village of Altamont, and a father of two children who attend Altamont Elementary, I was saddened when I heard the conclusions of the recent building capacity study for the Guilderland School District. The Altamont community, as a whole, has been justifiably upset about the possibility of the Altamont Elementary School closing.

It is upsetting to think of our kids on an hour-long bus ride to and from school. More importantly, they will no longer have Principal Peter Brabant greet them at the door, calling each of them by name.

“Mr. B” and the staff know their students individually — their faces, their parents, and their learning needs. They are an integral part of these formative years and why Altamont Elementary is a Blue Ribbon award-winning school.

While Altamont is the smallest of the elementary schools in the district, the study points out that, over the last five years, the enrollment has actually increased by 2.5 percent (a typo on page 37 of the report has it listed as -2.5 percent), while three out of four of the other elementary schools have lost enrollment over this same time period.

This supports the assessment of the village residents who stated that the Altamont Elementary School was a major factor in selecting the community they chose to live in. I know it was for my family.

Separating emotion from reality, I do understand the economic times we are in and I respect the proactive thinking of the board of education and understand it will have to make tough choices — this year and into the future.

However, after reading the study in detail, there are questions that need to be answered before the focus group and the board of education make a decision that will have permanent consequences, both seen and unseen:

— 1. Transportation: Why was a transportation study not included in the options? This is a large expenditure on the school budget and it should have been calculated in a money-saving study. What is the added expense to the district to transport the kids from Altamont Elementary to another school in Guilderland compared to the current transportation costs?

— 2. New boundaries: What would the new boundaries look like for all the options proposed? What other students will be shifting schools? Looking at the calculations of the student breakdowns in the scenarios; it appears that these boundaries may have already been drawn. If so, why were they not included in the study? If they were not, how did the study arrive at the projected enrollment numbers for each scenario?

— 3. Building usage: The report lists as an “opportunity” in the scenarios that call for closing schools that the vacant building could be sold or rented to generate revenue. Was this weighted the same for all potential vacant properties? Certainly there would be differences in the opportunities to utilize a more centrally located facility as opposed to a remote one to generate this revenue.

I hope the answers to these questions will lead to more questions and productive conversation regarding this issue, and help to educate the focus groups and the board of education so that they can make unbiased recommendations on ways to save the district money. All facets of this should be explored to determine the consequences of closing any of our schools.

If these questions are left unanswered, it could appear as though the decision had already been made to close a school, and the board of education would simply use this study to justify its decision.

Josh Kowalski


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