Onteora District mulls closing elementary building

By Jay Braman Jr.
The Onteora Central School District is again facing the prospect of closing an elementary school as a cost-saving measure.

Speaking to small audience Monday at Shandaken Town Hall, the OCS superintendent said that tough fiscal times require that tough choices must be made as to how to develop a sustainable spending plan in a district with a current budget of over $50 million a year.

Saying that Onteora is suffering from a “perfect storm” of problems ranging from poor student performance to declining enrollment to severe loss of revenue, Superintendent Phyllis McGill said that she and board of education members have been taking their show on the road, going directly to organizations within the sprawling district to inform the populace that much is at stake and work is underway to solve the problems.

She added that the school board is once again facing hard decisions.

“The discussion is going to get more exciting at the next board meeting,” she said, following a brief description of some options for changing the district, which include closing an elementary school.
McGill said that right now 20 percent of Onteora students do not graduate with a diploma and that another 20 percent do graduate, but by the skin of their teeth.

She said that anticipated enrollment for next year will be “about 1,200 students,” and that decreasing enrollment is a trend in New York State’s rural areas as much of the population is migrating closer to cities.

She also said that research has shown that if OCS stays within the two percent spending increase cap set by Governor Andrew Cuomo that after five years the district will have depleted all of its cash reserves and be $7 million in the red.
She said other indicators show that over 100 districts in the state are expected to share a similar fate.

All of this demands that OCS look at what she calls “tiered levels of reduction,” and that the school board has several options, all of which will be discussed in detail on December 13 at 6 p.m. in the Woodstock Elementary School.

Several years ago there was a plan to close to the Phoenicia Elementary School as a way to save the district money. The plan was soundly rejected by voters.