By Dan Hust
LAKE HUNTINGTON June 7, 2005 As usual, events at Sullivan West once again didnt go quite according to plan.
Thursdays board meeting at the high school auditorium in Lake Huntington was supposed to be preceded by a half-hours worth of public comment on the closing of the Narrowsburg and Delaware Valley elementary schools.
The comment period lasted an intense hour featuring statements against and in favor of closure.
Then came the highly anticipated vote on whether or not to close the schools both community institutions for the past half-century.
The vote was close 5-4 in favor of closure far closer than most expected.
The approving five were Board President Rich Sandler, Rick Lander, Bill Erdman, Carol Nearing and Regina Wagner. In recent meetings, they had each indicated their feeling that these painful closures were necessary.
However, the four dissenters all had different reasons for their votes.
I dont feel the economics of this situation has been fully investigated, said Shawn Bailey, one of the four. The logistics of such a change seem to require much more time than weve given them. . . . I do believe we made this decision in a hasty manner.
That represented a change from his position a month ago, when Bailey seemed inclined to go along with Superintendent Alan Derrys recommendation that the campuses be closed to more efficiently and economically educate students in the cash-strapped district. In subsequent board meetings, Bailey made similar statements as those above regarding his change of mind.
Angela Daley, however, had been steadfast in her feeling that voters should have had the opportunity to choose whether to close the buildings, rather than the board. Her vote Thursday reflected that desire.
Catherine Novak had urged the board to let the public decide as well, but she had been elected on a save our schools platform, and her vote showed her staunch opposition to any such closures.
In a bit of a surprise, Arthur Norden who had strongly supported the school closings as a way back to fiscal responsibility for the district voted against the closure as well.
The reason? He wanted two votes one for each district and made a long speech on why he felt that was necessary, in essence saying that with 72 students next year, Narrowsburg could easily be closed and then combined with a still-open Delaware Valley in Callicoon.
The board disagreed, and only one vote was held on closure, that is.
On its heels were three more related votes:
The board voted 8-1 to abolish 24 faculty positions, mostly for the soon-to-be-closed elementary schools. Only Novak was opposed.
The board voted 7-2 to abolish staff and support personnel positions, again mostly related to the closing schools. Novak and Bailey were opposed, as they wanted to vote separately on the two elementary school nurses who were being cut.
After a lengthy back-and-forth both in and out of public session, the board voted 6-3 to postpone until the next meeting any action on a resolution written by Norden to ask NYS Comptroller Alan Hevesi to investigate the circumstances leading up to the districts current financial condition, including the merger itself.
The postponement was deemed necessary to let the schools attorney review the resolution.
Norden, Sandler and Bailey were opposed each of whom indicated they were already greatly in favor of the investigation.
Now that the definitive decision to close two schools has been made, Sullivan West faces the task of shutting the facilities down but keeping them maintained for at least the next six years just in case student population soars to a point that can justify their reopenings.
About 320 students will be moved out of the DV and Narrowsburg campuses. Who will lead the now-single elementary school in Jeffersonville is yet to be officially determined, although the board will likely vote on it at its next board meeting: Thursday, June 16, at 7:30 p.m. at the high school in Lake Huntington.
Where the main office will be is a bit more certain, as a move reportedly is in the works from the DV building to the Jeff campus back to where the central office was two years ago (but not in the old modulars).
The junior high school consisting of 240 students will be shifted from Jeff to the high school in Lake Huntington, which will take place during the studentless summer.
The transportation plan has yet to be approved, and more discussion is likely, as Derry promised the seemingly impossible: no child should be on a bus longer than an hour one-way, and buses wont run earlier than what is necessary to maintain the current arrival of students at 7:30 a.m. for the high school and 8:30 a.m. for the elementary school.
Residents in the northern reaches of the district especially in Delaware County arent so sure about that, and those around Long Eddy and French Woods are seeking to be annexed into the much closer Hancock Central School District. Derry indicated he is working with residents to determine whether that is feasible or desirable.
The Town of Hancock Board recently unanimously issued a resolution opposing the school closings and offering to help its residents in seeking the annexation.