Woestina and Mariaville’s will shut doors in June
After months of deliberation on how to reduce expenses and run the Schalmont Central School District more efficiently, Woestina and Mariaville elementary schools will close in June.
The Schalmont Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution recommended by Superintendent Valerie Kelsey to close the two schools and move all fifth grade students to middle and high school complex. Closing the two schools is estimated to save $1.2 to $1.4 million to help close the budget gap of around $2.4 million for the 2011-12 school year.
This was an extremely difficult and emotional decision for everyone involved, said Kelsey in a statement. `I believe this was a tough decision that needed to be made to ensure a fair balance of quality programs and services for all district students while being sensitive to the needs of our taxpayers.`
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget is slated to reduce state aid to the district by 9.1 percent, said Kelsey, which amounts to $1.1 million less for the district. Last year’s budget saw a reduction of $1.5 million as district officials responded to declining enrollment and mandated costs increases. Closing the buildings will also result in staff being laid off, but it is unclear what those figures will be at this time.
`As we get more into the definitive part of budget process, we will have more details on [layoffs],` said Kelsey.
Closing the two elementary schools will help the school buildings reach closer to their capacity levels. The middle school was only around 75 percent capacity before moving the fifth-graders, said Kelsey.
`It was really bringing our three other buildings more to capacities being more efficient in terms of structures,` said Kelsey.
The cost per-pupil will also decrease with the closings, bringing the elementary levels to $7,600 per student, said Audrey Hendricks, spokeswoman for the district. Currently, the cost per pupil at Jefferson is $8,151, and $10,820 per pupil at Mariaville and $10,965 at Woestina.
`It makes us more efficient. Our buildings are at a fuller capacity, and as we move forward in our budgetary process, the board’s focus has been to maintain programs. This will enable us to do a better job at that,` said Kelsey.
After the efficiency report was released early in the school year, there were several community forums held to get input on what direction the district could move in. The general consensus seemed to be that doing nothing would not be an option for the district, said Board of Education President Kevin Thompson.
`Certainly there are some mixed feelings in the community,` said Shari Lontrato, principal of Woestina. `I think it was definitely positive in the way the decision was made. There was a lot of input from everybody in the community. Everyone that was a community resident was invited to participate in those [discussions].`
The transition process is also just getting started, because there will be a committee formed in the fall to discuss the structure of the middle school program. Fifth-graders will still be bused with elementary students and have traditional formatting to classes separate from other middle school students. Before the transition, feedback is being sought from faculty, administration and parents on how to best implement the transition. Also, concerns that were brought up during community budget forums will be addressed by district officials.
`I think the kids will really come through the transition well,` said Lontrato.
As far as the two closed buildings are concerned, Kelsey said the plan is to find income through usage of the buildings. Thompson has previously said he would like to see the facilities continued to be used to benefit the community too.
`The surrounding community is still vibrant and attracting new property owners,` said Thompson. `The board’s goal is of course to find similarly successful functions for the Mariaville and Woestina buildings.`
Kelsey sent a letter home with students on Tuesday, Feb. 15, to give to their parents about the school closings. The letter said that while the loss of the schools is substantial for the community, the district will continue to provide quality education.
`While it’s heartbreaking to see two schools steeped in history and culture and cherished so deeply by their communities close, I have no doubt that we’ll be able to work together to make this a positive transition,` she said in her letter. `Schalmont has a reputation for excellence, and that’s certainly not going to change.`
Even after closing the two schools, the district still needs to find an additional savings around $1.1 million through additional budget cuts for the upcoming 2011-12 budget.“