OSWEGO, NY Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Even though any decision is still months away, at best, nearly 20 people let the Oswego school board know how they feel right now.
At its December meeting, the board heard from a committee that examined what options the district had if it sold the Education Center.
The option that was at the forefront of discussion was closing Leighton Elementary and relocating the district’s offices there.
That didn’t sit well with the parents of Leighton students who spoke at Tuesday’s board meeting.
Some speakers also cried foul; complaining that the district pushed the meeting’s start time back to 4 p.m. in an attempt to avoid hearing their comments regarding the school.
Mary Pryor noted that student achievement has been improving in the district. However, if Leighton students have to be added to classes in other elementary schools, the larger class sizes could put that trend in jeopardy.
Leighton was targeted due to its proximity to the high school and the convenience that would provide the administration, she said.
“That’s not an acceptable reason!” she told the board. “Administrators’ convenience should never take precedence over what is best for the children of this district. It would be self-serving for the administration to take one of the best elementary buildings for their own use. Their comfort and convenience shouldn’t be the motivation on which a new location is chosen.”
Closing a school won’t solve the district’s financial problems, she added.
Any decision the board makes “should be for the betterment of the school system and the children it serves,” she said.
Tara Weisman also questioned why Leighton, the largest elementary school, was being considered for closure. It is three times the size of the Education Center, she pointed out.
If Leighton closed, the other elementary schools would have to absorb 112 new students. That averages out to about 16 kids per grade or six kids per class, she said.
“That doesn’t sound like a lot until you look at our average numbers right now,” she added. “That brings our average class size up to 25 to 30 students per classroom.”
Also, 92 percent of Leighton’s 37 teachers are tenured. They would have to be placed somewhere, she said.
According to some studies she’s seen, the affects on students due to displacement, she said, include a higher suicide risk.
“If you call yourselves educators, then the students need to be put first, not you,” she told the board.
“I think it’s very disappointing, for the community as a whole, that we’re once again revisiting this issue of possibly closing a school,” Julie Chetney told the board. “I feel like the community is on a rollercoaster. I wish it would come to an end; are we closing one or not? Move forward with it, it’s becoming really repetitive. It’s time to make a decision.”
There is no reason the district has to relocate all Leighton’s students, Kisha Joyce told the board.
“You guys need to figure out how to divide up this building amongst the school district and work it out. You need to make it work, that’s the bottom line,” she said.
Marguerite Clark served on the Relocation Committee.
“I can honestly say that I do not agree or support the options that were presented to you,” she said. “I feel we were not given enough information to make a fair and accurate decision. I firmly believe that the options you were presented are flawed.”
She suggested cost-saving measures such as out-sourcing simple office services, consolidating the current offices to just two floors and rent out the rest of the Ed Center.
“Do what you were elected to do and that is look after the best interests of the students and citizens of this community,” she said.
Judy Kenefic told the board they should give more support to the elementary level so the students will be more successful when they reach high school.
“Having a 4 O’clock meeting wasn’t fair,” she said. “People who wanted to be here didn’t have time to get out of work.”
“This is about the kids, not the adults. We need to do this for the kids, not the adults,” said Gabrielle Caruso.
Gina Horn brought her two children to the meeting. Her daughter is a fourth grader and her son is a second grader at Leighton.
She and her husband bought their home because it was in the Leighton district, she told the board.
“I know that there is a firm belief among several of you on this board that we need to get rid of teachers and make our class sizes bigger. That is completely false; it will not work, our grades will go down,” Beth McCrobie said.
There is no reason to rush to a decision now, just to provide closure, Susan McBrearty told the board. The district needs to continue the positive strides it has been making, she said.
“Closing an elementary school and increasing class sizes is not going to be able to continue that,” she said.
“If you take the largest enrolled elementary school, in the best physical condition, to renovate for the purposes of offices (for administration) it sends a message to the taxpayers and students that athletics and administration are more valuable than academics and comfortable classrooms,” said George Allen.
“We appreciate each and every one of your comments,” Board President Sam Tripp said.
He also apologized for the early start to the meeting but added he didn’t anticipate such a large turnout.
“This early in the process, we’re a long way from making any decision,” he explained.
“There is no action that will take place this evening,” Superintendent Bill Crist agreed. “This is an opportunity for the board to discuss the report and also assure you that there will be subsequent opportunity for you to be involved in this process as well.”
There was a newsletter sent out to the community regarding the situation as well as information on the district’s website, he said, adding “It’s out there.”
“I don’t think so” and “No, it isn’t” a couple of the audience members called out.
“This isn’t a discussion,” board member Dave White informed the speakers. “Let the superintendent continue.”
“I’m just laying some groundwork here. I’m not debating. I’d be happy to discuss this later,” Crist added.