CHATHAM – The school board held a special Town Hall meeting Thursday, January 3 to discuss the closing of the middle school building on Woodbridge Avenue. If the board decides to close the building, which members say could save the district $680,000 a year, they would not move students to the main campus until fall of 2015.
During the first half of the meeting Superintendent Cheryl Nuciforo listed the many programs at Chatham that the school district hopes to maintain, and Business Administrator Michael Chudy reviewed district finances.
Mr. Chudy’s presentation included enrollment numbers, which are steadily declining in Chatham, and a look at revenues and reserves the district can use to plug the holes the budget. He stressed that state aid is down and the district, like others in the state, has been affected by the 2% property tax cap.
“On the positive side, we still have reserves,” he said. But he also stressed that money would run out in the coming years if other revenue sources are not found.
Addressing the idea of closing the old school, Ms. Nuciforo said, “It could buy us more time before we get in serious trouble.”
A few of the approximately 50 people who attended asked questions at the end of the administrators’ presentations about closing the school and the effect it will have on students. Some asked what would happen if the district experienced a spike in population. Ms. Nuciforo said that the data show declining enrollment out to the year 2018 and she does not anticipate anything will change that.
She also said that the board has made no plans for the building, parts of which are nearly a century old, and the district is in no rush to close the building or sell it. Ms. Nuciforo said the district may use the space for district offices and could reach out to Columbia-Greene Community College, which might want to use some of the space.
The savings, she said, would come from not having students in the building and the staffing cuts that come with that change. “If we don’t have three buildings, we don’t need three principals,” she said, with the same applying to three school nurses and the janitorial staff. She also stressed that closing the building would not affect class size. “A lot of this has to do with using the space more efficiently,” she said.
If the board does close the middle school officials anticipate the need for construction at the high school building, though Ms. Nuciforo said the board could close the school now and move the middle school students to the main campus, accommodating the added students at the high school. What the board is looking at is adding four classrooms, she said, though the scope of a capital project is has not yet been decided.
Audience member Craig Simmons challenged the district’s assumptions, saying, “Closing the building and saving $680,000 is not real.” He pointed out that the district has already spent $40,000 for a facilities study and they will have to spend money on the capital project.
Ms. Nuciforo said there are funds in a capital project reserve fund. Though the board makes the decision about closing the school, voters in the district must approve spending for capital projects.
The board has planned more town-hall-style meetings about the fate of the middle school building. The next one is Tuesday, February 26 at 6:30 p.m. in High School Auditorium, when the board will discuss a grade 7-12 program. That will be followed by a meeting Tuesday, March 26, also at 6:30 p.m. in Auditorium and focused on a possible capital construction project.
To contract reporter Emilia Teasdale email .