Dan Hust | Democrat
AS MONTICELLO CENTRAL School Superintendent Patrick Michel and other district officials listen in the background, Bethel Supervisor Dan Sturm speaks about the town board's desire not to see the Duggan Elementary School closed.
Bethelites want Duggan School saved
By Dan Hust
WHITE LAKE More than 200 residents massed at the Duggan Elementary School in White Lake Wednesday to discuss the Monticello Central School District’s plan to study possibly closing one of its elementary schools.
Superintendent Patrick Michel indicated neither Cooke nor Rutherford, both in the Village of Monticello, are up for consideration, but Duggan or its sister in Wurtsboro, Chase, might be targeted for closure due to an anticipated loss of nearly $2 million in state aid.
The response from the crowd was surprisingly mixed. Though most argued against closing Duggan, some urged a broader look at the district’s finances, and many proffered alternatives to closing any school.
Leaders of the Duggan PTO kept a firm grasp on what was actually their special meeting, keeping arguments from becoming vicious, but the discussion was certainly vigorous.
“Let us not solve our budget issues at the expense of our community values and our youth,” said Bethel Supervisor Dan Sturm, speaking on behalf of a united town board.
The 58-year-old school building “is part of the glue that has held this community together,” added Legislator Dave Sager, whose mother and family attended the elementary school. “… I firmly believe that the closure of the Duggan School will result in an exodus of families.”
That thought was echoed by other speakers, who pointed to Duggan not only as a community center but a wonderful place to teach children.
“There are lots of ways to cut little expenses here and there,” remarked Rosanne Oestrich of Smallwood. “... Something has to suffer, but it doesn’t have to be the elementary kids.”
One resident wondered why Cooke and Rutherford couldn’t be combined into a K-5 facility, but Michel said there just wasn’t space.
In fact, while stressing no decisions had yet been made, Michel indicated a school building closure was a distinct possibility.
“There are going to be no easy choices to make,” he told the crowd, noting those choices would be in programming and/or facilities. “You’re going to have to really dig in.”
A more concrete plan will be hashed out once the district receives firmer state aid figures in mid-March, but Michel was insistent that he and the board believe a double-digit tax increase is unfair not to mention unpalatable to the majority of the district.
He found some support in the audience for that concept, with several residents urging programs be kept the priority and buildings cut if need be.
Michel added that the state mandates certain offerings, so “our choices of what we can cut is limited by state law.”
Closing Duggan or Chase would save the district more than $3 million a year, he said, though he added that “if it came to that, we would only suggest closing one.”
But an audience eager to avoid that scenario offered a variety of options, from renting out the facilities when school is not in session to consolidating classes and personnel to hiring a consulting firm to recommend the next move.
Michel, saying he was offended that some thought decisions had already been made, urged the public to bring those ideas to budget and board meetings.
While the school budget vote (which would include any closures) isn’t until May 19, the district is already heavily involved in budget preparations.
The next board meeting is Thursday, February 5 at 7 p.m. at the RJK Middle School Library, but a full list of public meetings, including budget workshops, is available at www.monticelloschools.net.
In the meantime, Ed Buscemi, Jo-Ann Peabody and other concerned citizens have organized a group called Bethel United to Save Our School (BUSS) and have instituted a website to track community sentiment and district actions: www.savedugganschool.org.