OCS Board weighing tough money saving options

By Jay Braman Jr.
As parents in the Onteora School bombard the board of education with concerns over the impacts of school reconfiguration plans, the school board is working hard to show not only parents, but all that live in the district, that they are taking the matter seriously and proceeding with caution.

Following a recent school board meeting where over 75 people attended to hear details about plans, some of which include the closure of one of the three elementary schools, the school board drafted an open letter to the public.

“It is not the board’s desire to approve change for change’s sake, nor do we want to rush to eliminate the things about Onteora that parents treasure – such as music and arts education, after-school activities, sports, high school electives, or their elementary school community,” the December 20 letter states. “While we can perhaps put a price on everything within the district, it is harder to attach a precise value, and we understand that this is where the conversation becomes difficult. “

The board has now begun considering reconfiguration options. A presentation was made to the board by the Superintendent Dr. Phyllis McGill at its December 13 meeting entitled, “Improving the Elementary student experience and improving Elementary student learning with reduced financial resources.”

This presentation looked at the impacts of three different reconfiguration plans, with the desire to address areas of concern in the school system, and to find a path forward that also falls within the increasing financial constraints of the district.

Two of those plans would close an elementary school, though the board and superintendent have yet to specify which one. There are now three elementary schools in operation in Phoenicia, Boiceville and Woodstock. A forth elementary school, located in West Hurley, was closed several years ago but the district still owns the vacant building.

A third plan keeps all three elementary schools open, but with two of them housing only Kindergarten through third-grade students and the other elementary school used exclusively for grades four through six.

As for the plans, none will please everyone.

“The impacts on each of us vary,” the letter warns,” but the overall success of the Onteora Central School District is our primary responsibility.”

The school board insists that no reconfiguration plan will be approved by the board of education if it cannot demonstrate that it will help achieve the board’s goals.

At the next board meeting, at Bennett Elementary School in Boiceville on January 10, Dr. McGill will present a more detailed look at the education benefits of the three plans under consideration, and will further address the transportation issues that are an inherently complicated aspect of any reconfiguration change.

The school board’s letter states that no date has yet been set for a board vote on these plans.
“We know that there are many questions that need to be answered before we can do so,” the letter states.