OSWEGO, NY Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Supporters of Frederick Leighton Elementary School threw down the gauntlet Tuesday night.
The west side elementary could be closed and its students dispersed among the remaining elementary schools and the middle school under a budget proposal the school board is considering. Leighton would become home to the district’s central office.
The board room was filled to standing-room-only capacity Tuesday, with several people observing the proceedings from the hallway.
Nearly a dozen speakers addressed the board during the public comment session. They accused the district of putting the needs of administrators above those of the students, said closing Leighton was the wrong thing to do and they would fight to save their school.
Mary Pryor, the parent of a third grader at Leighton, urged the board to not make a hasty decision regarding the future of the school.
“(The superintendent) would like you and the community to believe that closing Leighton is the most economical and wise choice. I have not seen any facts to support this,” she said. “I truly believe this to be the complete opposite of the truth.”
The proposal, she believes, supports a personal agenda on the superintendent’s part.
She pointed out that there have been in the past proposals to close other schools.
The administrative offices “can do their business anywhere” and don’t have to move into Leighton, she added.
“The school that should be closed should be the one whose closure impacts the elementary students of this district the least. It should have nothing to do with where administration is housed or sports complexes or anything other than what’s best for the children,” she continued.
Several of the speakers pointed out the relatively new age of the school, its good condition and success of its students.
It is also the only single-floor school and is completely handicap-accessible.
The speakers also pointed out that some other schools have had issues of mold and poor air quality.
“By just throwing Leighton Elementary faculty, students and parents out there as the targeted school to close this year and not giving a good reason for the decision has done very little to improve this district’s image,” said Margie Clark, co-president of Leighton’s Home and School and also a parent of a Leighton fourth grader.
Taxpayers would be stuck footing the bill for a vacant building, if the district moves out of the current Education Center, she added.
“I must say that I am very suspicious of the school district’s motives and the hidden agendas,” Clark said. “There is more going on than what is being said.”
“Our children are not cattle. They should not be subjected to over-crowded schools and classrooms and then expected to thrive in that environment,” she continued. “Our children deserve so much more.”
The speakers urged the board to find other ways to close the budget shortfall. Closing Leighton, or any other school, should be used only as a last resort, they said.
Judi Kenefic said she was speaking for the children, who couldn’t speak for themselves.
“You cannot put sports and administrative needs in front of the only children who cannot speak for themselves which is why I have chosen to be the one to speak for them. Which is the irony at this very minute that I am losing my ability to speak,” the cancer survivor told the board members. “And, I hope you hear this.”
“This plan will not save the taxpayers a dime,” her husband, Mike, said. “This is just wrong, folks.”
If it is the district’s plan to turn Leighton into a big complex for the high school, “why don’t we just be honest with all us taxpayers and explain it as such,” he said. “Let’s not mask what we’re doing just for the good of the children. Let’s not mask it for the good of the taxpayers. Let’s tell the truth Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ and more importantly, let’s make the right decision. Closing Leighton School clearly is not the right decision.”
Christina Roddy said she moved from New York City to Oswego five years ago, because of the schools.
“I think we need to put our children first and not our administration,” she said.
Inna Loayza, the parent of a kindergartener at Leighton, said it was the best building in the district.
There are other options the board could consider other than closing a school, she said.
Rebecca Corrice said her daughter is excelling at Leighton.
“I do not want to see the day where a school that she loves gets closed,” she told the board. “I will not let it happen. I will either move out of the district or send her to private school, because I cannot allow that to happen to my children and I don’t want to see it happen to other people’s children. I, as a parent, will not go down without a fight.”
Shawn Carter is a teacher in APW, but has three children in Leighton.
The APW district has closed a building, he said.
“We spent months discussing possible issues, sharing information with the public, letting them know the actual financial costs, student ratios Ã¢â‚¬â€œ all the information necessary before we allowed the public to make a decision about what we were going to do,” he said. “That is, to my mind, the only reasonable, acceptable way to make a decision of this import.”
It’s not right to take hundreds of students out of a building for the benefit of a few dozen administrators, he told the board.
“A school is so much more than just its primary role of an educational facility,” he said. “I’m advocating for a situation where we keep all of our schools functioning and we find a way to fit the administration in around its primary purpose of educating youngsters. Because that’s what matters, we are here to serve them.”
The board will hold a workshop on March 9 to further discuss budget issue.
The next regular school board meeting is set for March 16; discussion of budget topics is likely then also.