Questionable future

SINCLAIRVILLE – The future of the Cassadaga Elementary School is in question, and the Cassadaga Valley Central School Board members, David Christy, William Carlson, Jeanne Oag, and S. Carl Perry will have to make the decision about its fate.

Recently the Cassadaga Valley Central School Board of Education held a work session to discuss the use of the buildings in the district. Superintendent Scott Smith has been reporting the enrollment figures compared to building capacity for each of the district’s buildings at board of education meetings. At its November meeting, Smith recommended before the board does any “heavy lifting” on the budget, it hold a work session, not a budget workshop, to discuss building utilization.

At the beginning of the session Smith called it “A continuation of the conversations we have had at board meetings.”

Explaining the nature of a work session he said, “No motions are taken or approved. It is not required to have public comment, but in line with past practice, we will.”

Using power point, Smith and Business Manager Debra McAvoy presented numbers to set the stage. No copies of the presentation were given to the board, the public, or the press.

Some numbers were concrete. Total enrollment figures were given starting with 1992 and continuing at five-year intervals. These showed a decline in total enrollment of 211 students over five years and 419 over 10 years.

Current enrollment figures and capacity of each building were reiterated: the Cassadaga Elementary School has 95 students in a building with a capacity of 510; Sinclairville Elementary has 371 students in a building with a capacity of 500 and the middle/high school has 585 students (grades 6-12) in a building with a capacity of 800. These numbers were similar to the numbers presented at board meetings. Figures of current numbers enrolled in each grade were also presented. Students in classes of grade 7 through 12 number 79 to 93. In contrast, in the lower grades, most class numbers are in the 60 to 70 range. If the trend continues, total enrollment will continue to decline.

State aid revenue decreases which were said to be tied to enrollment were presented. Starting with the 2008- 2009 figure ($12,036,768), figures showed a decrease each year to $10,991,745 for the current year.

Smith said, “Educational insolvency is when a district can no longer pay for all the mandated services and instruction for its students. … I fear we are very close to educational insolvency.”

One opportunity to cut costs would be a closure of the Cassadaga Elementary school. This was where the numbers were less concrete. If the building were closed, according to current state funding standards, the district would continue to get building aid until the building was sold. For example, the district could lease all or part of the building to a non-profit and continue to receive aid.

Some factors used to estimate cost savings were salaries and building upkeep. Members of the public questioned these.

Lilydale resident Robert Reuther questioned the basis of the figure estimated as a decrease in salary. Smith said the figure was based on “positions replicated in both buildings and the combining of what positions would no longer be needed.” Smith did not and would not provide information about specific positions or how he and McAvoy reached the number cited.

In response to Reuther’s efforts to elicit details, Smith said, “Any projection is not 100 percent.”

Smith said that the school board would be the entity that would vote whether or not to close the school. The board could appoint an advisory committee to assess the educational impact of closing the build. He advised that if the board decided to do that it should give a very specific charge to the committee including the time frame.

One resident noted that once a building is closed, the construction is not grandfathered. That means that if it is reopened, it would have to be brought up to the present building code.

Another wondered, ” Is this the only option? To me this seems like a band aid.”

In response to a committee, another said, “I would hope it (the committee) would have a bit of latitude to explore the options.”

Board member William Carlson reported he attended a meeting for school board members and superintendents with the New York State Commissioner of Education (Dr. John B. King, Jr.). Carlson said he asked whether the state is trying through its aid policies to force districts to consolidate. Carlson said King was very candid in his answer, saying the Education Department would like to see 200 less districts in the state.

Carlson noted the geographic size of the current district and said, “I would hope we could take measures that could take us (through) the next five years.”

The next meeting of the Board of Education is scheduled for Jan. 14 in the middle/high school multipurpose room at 7 p.m. The board may take further action on the school at that meeting.

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