Kat-Lewisboro School Board To Examine Closing A School

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The Katonah-Lewisboro School Board discusses 2013-14 budget issues Thursday night, including the possibility of closing an elementary school. Photo Credit: Bob Dumas

CROSS RIVER, N.Y. – With school enrollment declining and revenues diminishing, thanks in part to the state imposed property-tax cap, the Katonah-Lewisboro Board of Education will examine the possibility of closing one of its four elementary schools as it moves forward with its 2013-14 budget preparations.

The district's enrollment by the 2016-17 school year is projected to be 25 percent lower than it was in 2006-07, according to a study by Richard S. Grip of Statistical Forecasting.

School officials said the study was intended to provide a likely trajectory of enrollment over the next several years to help guide the Board of Education in its decision-making. One of those decisions is how to best utilize its buildings.

As the school board lays out goals for the coming school years, such as all-day kindergarten, foreign language in elementary schools, and class sizes for K-12, board trustees said they must figure out the most efficient way to pay for them. Eliminating the cost of operating an under-utilized building may be one way to do that. The board has not singled out any particular school it would consider for closing at this point in the discussion.

Board members said they knew such a move would be an emotional and controversial decision and said if it does happen, it would not be for the 2013-14 school year.

Board member Marjorie Schiff said if the board does decide to close a school it would be a “delicate and divisive” move.

“But it’s not going to happen next year, so nobody should start freaking out,” said board member Janet Harckham.

Harckham said that many of the board’s goals are inter-related so a decision on one goal could have a domino effect on the others.

“For example, [the goal of] full-day kindergarten is linked to the capacity of our schools,” she said. “How do we look at that?”

At its meeting Thursday night at John Jay High School, the board discussed forming a committee to examine the school-closing issue, but School Superintendent Paul Kreutzer said the issue is broader than that.

“We can commission a committee, but I don’t like calling it a ‘school-closing committee,’” he said. “That might not be the conclusion that the committee comes up with.”

Kreutzer said if such a committee is formed, it should consist of more than school board members. It could include residents of the school district, an architect, a demographer and community leaders.

Last week, the board put together a chart of its directives to the administration for 2013-14 budget development. Here’s how each board member weighed in on the elementary-school closure issue:

  • Mark Lipton: Yes - use this to pay for full-day kindergarten for September 2014
  • Charles Day: Not for September 2013 but look at it for September 2014
  • Peter Breslin: Not for September 2013
  • Peter Treyz: Yes, if possible for September 2013 to save money in order to save programs.
  • Marjorie Schiff: Not for September 2013
  • Stephanie Tobin: Not for September 2013. Continue with the study. Would like to see how community rebounds from economic recession.
  • Janet Harckham: Need to look at its impact on full-day kindergarten
  • Samuel Gordon (student rep): Look at it for September 2014
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Reeve1:

Glad to see that in sharp contrast to the 17% increase proposed by the Lewisboro supervisor's tentative budget, this current school board is assessing the realities and leaving all options on the table.

One issue, however, may need clarification from statements made in conjunction with plans to rent the district's former offices in South Salem. Even though the Department of Education authorizes"warehousing" old buildings by renting them as an education function, at least one appellate court has required that a use variance be obtained.

Any private entity acquiring a school building would be required to comply with the zoning regulations of the district in which the school is located, and these schools are all located in residential zones. Most anything other than a private home or a town use will also require a special use permit or variance.

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