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Constableville residents speak out against proposed school closure

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TURIN — Constableville residents came out en masse Tuesday evening to speak out against the proposed closure of their elementary school.

“Closing schools should be a last option,” said Joseph Genter during a hearing attended by more than 100 residents.

“You can’t take the emotion out of this equation,” added Carrie H. Dolan.

South Lewis Central School District Superintendent Douglas E. Premo recently recommended the closure for the 2012-13 school year of the smallest of the district’s three elementary schools, with its students to be split between Glenfield and Port Leyden. Fifth-graders would be moved from elementary schools to the middle school.

The Board of Education is slated to vote on the issue at its 7 p.m. meeting Tuesday in the middle-high school suite.

“I don’t know what the decision will be Tuesday,” board President Barry R. Worczak said. “Whatever it is, it’s going to be painful for everyone.”

The move would offer a projected cost savings of $550,000, which represents about 7 percent of the district’s tax levy.

The superintendent also argued that elementary consolidation would make it easier to balance class sizes, match students with teachers and improve collaboration among staff members.

District students now attend one of three elementary schools in Glenfield, Port Leyden or Constableville through fifth grade, with class sizes ranging from 10 to 25.

Under the proposal advocated by Mr. Premo, 44 of the 56 students in kindergarten through grade 3 at Constableville would move to Glenfield, while the rest would go to Port Leyden. That would result in roughly 200 students apiece at the two elementaries, with class sizes ranging from 16 to 23 students.

Despite contentions from Mr. Premo that the proposal would result in maximum bus rides of one hour and reduce average bus rides for students, some parents were skeptical.

“I don’t know how you’re going to do it in an hour,” said Mr. Genter, who presented board members with packets containing, among other things, distances from a few points in the Constableville area to Glenfield calculated on Mapquest.com.

He also suggested that, instead of closing the school, district officials cut administrative positions and salaries, stop busing for after school activities and redistrict so more elementary students attend Constableville school.

Some speakers called for cuts in teachers’ pay and complained that Mr. Premo does not live in the school district, while others suggested fifth-graders may not be emotionally developed enough to deal with older students in the middle school.

“I have some significant reservations with moving fifth-grade students into the middle-high school,” said Lydia L. Dittrich, Constableville.

Some opined that the matter should go to a public vote.

“It may be the most important decision in elementary schools in a long time,” said Royal H. Kraeger, Constableville.

“The real power should be the people who are paying the bills,” added Richard Barniak, Turin.

Mr. Worczak indicated that he had not looked into the possibility of a referendum but that one would only be required by law if the proposal was to expend money, as with the proposed construction of a central elementary building that was voted down several years ago.

The board president added that the state’s 2 percent tax cap is one of the reasons district officials are looking to cut expenses and that past decisions to close elementary schools in Turin and Lyons Falls were both made by the school board.

Not all speakers Tuesday were opposed to the school closure.

“I know you’re attached to that building,” said Patricia A. Corey, a Lyons Falls resident and long-time music teacher in the school district. “So am I.”

However, she suggested that closing the Constableville school would be a better option than losing music, art or other programs.

“There is the issue of teaching the whole child,” added Melissa Tripp, Glenfield.

After making several comments during the meeting, Mr. Kraeger at the close asked for a round of applause on behalf of the school board members for listening to residents’ concerns.

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