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Kaitlin Carney | Democrat

Town of Bethel Supervisor Dan Sturm reads his statement at last Thursday’s Monticello Board of Education meeting at the Robert J. Kaiser School. Monticello Superintendent Pat Michel, center, listens, along with Board President Alyce Van Etten, at right.

School board and public hear school closing scenarios

By Kaitlin Carney
MONTICELLO — March 9, 2010 — It was a familiar scene in Monticello on Thursday evening as concerned residents packed the Robert J. Kaiser Middle School lunchroom to hear District Superintendent Patrick Michel address the looming issue of the school budget.
A demographic study suggested the district was not operating near its capacity for elementary school students and parents have been waiting to hear the district’s plan.
The subject has become a hot button issue. Parents of children in the schools perceived to be on the short list for closure began organizing petitions and groups on social networking sites in hopes of bringing attention to the issue.
With a final 2010-11 budget scheduled to be adopted by the board on March 25 and presented for vote on May 18, the board and administration have taken part in a number of Citizens’ Advisory Budget Committee (CABC) meetings to seek public input in creating the budget. The issue of school closings and the need to fill a projected $2.7 million budget gap are a regular discussion and source of uneasiness for the community.
Dr. Michel presented a scenario of closing each of Monticello’s elementary schools and the impact an individual closure would have on the system as a whole. It was emphasized that no decision had been made, and that the board and the public were seeing the information for the first time together. Board member Richard Feller emphasized that no decision would be made that evening.
Michel went through each scenario with those assembled. Closing the Cooke School would save the district $1.8 million, the Duggan school: $2.0 million, the Rutherford School: $1.48 million and closure of the Chase School would save $1.98 million.
After the first school, a discussion ensued on mothballing costs to keep a closed school ready to use. A parent in the audience pointed out that the savings would be greater than outlined because building operations were not included.
The affect each school closing would have on classroom size, school capacity, room conversion and excising positions was presented and can be found in full pdf form on the district website: under the heading “Elementary School Closure Analysis,” or by calling the district office to request a copy.
Board member Feller, after the presentation, stated that it was a very tough task for the administration and the board and they would seek to do “what hurts the students the least and hopefully hurts the taxpayers the least.”
Community input was then considered with prepared statements coming from Bethel Supervisor Dan Sturm, and Bob Stewart, 34-year educator and six-year Monticello BOE member.
Sturm pointed out the importance of small schools to the community and the efforts Bethel has made to help the district with underutilization of space at the Duggan School through proposed municipal rental.
Stewart remarked that the community had a job to “fill in for the travesty the state has given us,” and not to sacrifice to programs the schools built in the process. He asserted that historically, people have supported levy increases of 1-10 percent with an average of 6.15 percent and that the people would support a levy increase that would not require a school closure.
Before the close of the meeting at 11 p.m., Dr Michel asked the board for levy parameters to help shape the budget. The board, after much discussion, requested proposals for a 4, 6, and 8 percent levy increase with Michel’s warning that anything under 7 percent would probably include a school closing.
“To say that times, they are a changin’ would be an understatement,” Michel remarked.

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