Oswego School Board Eyes Plan To Spare Leighton

OSWEGO, NY – The Oswego City School District’s budget carousel continues to spin. On Tuesday night, it headed in a new direction.

Leighton supporters applaud the school board's decision Tuesday night not to close Leighton Elementary. The board will vote on the final budget proposal on April 13.
Leighton supporters applaud the school board's decision Tuesday night not to close Leighton Elementary. The board will vote on the final budget proposal on April 13.

The school board was looking at two options. One was basically status quo, which would save approximately $2 million but at the cost of many programs and positions. Option two saved less money but spared programs and positions. However, students would be removed from Leighton Elementary School.

Superintendent Bill Crist recommended option two; and, at its last meeting, the board approved going with that option.

Tuesday night, board member Tom DeCastro said he was still opposed to closing Leighton, or any other school. He proposed option No. three.

The board voted 6-1, with Dave White voting no, to go with DeCastro’s plan. They then voted to rescind their previous vote that approved option two.

The board’s action received a resounding applause from the many Leighton supporters that packed the board room.

According to option three:

  • No schools will be closed
  • Elementary class size, K-2, will be between 20 to 22 while the 3-6 will be 23 to 25 students. At that time, the board will entertain the request for additional staffing.
  • No new hires at 7-12 until each teacher has the responsibility for a minimum of 110 students to a max of 125 in regular education programs.
  • Jobs will be reduced through retirements or employees who leave for another position outside the school district.
  • Money to make up the gap and to reach a zero percent tax levy difference will come from reserves and surplus.
  • Sixth grade will remain at the elementary level.

The superintendent cautioned that going in this direction, using so much of the reserves and surplus, would put the district at risk financially.

“We’re being rushed into making a decision that I don’t think that any of us are really ready to make at this time,” DeCastro said in making his proposal.

Negotiations with the nuclear plants should favor the district, he noted.

“With the passing of the 55/25 (retirement incentive for those 55 and older with 25 years of service) I am sure there is going to more high-end people that are going to be retiring. That should be a savings for us, also,” he said. “This gives us breathing room for a little over a year in which we can make a sound judgment as to what we’re going to do with our schools.”

Option two didn’t “close” a school, he pointed out, it displaced students.

“Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, you can’t put it back inside. So if we make changes now, that we’re not happy with, we’re going to look terrible,” DeCastro said. “We need to take time to do this.”

“We have more than $12 million in reserves that would cushion us,” board member John Dunsmoor added.

“This is all fundamental stuff that I have been screaming for all year,” board member Fran Hoefer said of DeCastro’s proposal.

“The only downfall to it is the fact that the community will have to realize that one year your kid might go to one school but as soon as the (class size hits the limit) you’re probably going to start seeing kids shift from one school to another,” Dunsmoor said.

“That means I could have a first grader at one building and a fourth grader at another building,” board president Sam Tripp observed.

“I think we should strive to keep families together,” Dunsmoor replied.

“I like this, Tom. I voted against option one and two,” Tripp said. “I like this option better.”

The community isn’t all opposed to closing a building, he added.

“They all understand the fiscal restraints that we have; we may need to close a building. The only reason that I didn’t want to close a building this year is I don’t think we’ve given it enough thought to come up with a good enough plan,” Tripp said. “I can support this with the understanding that we continue to look at redistricting and closing a building if, if the numbers warrant it.”

White said he made a decision (to go with option two) and is sticking by it.

“I think we should move on. We’re losing money, we’re losing kids,” he said.

“Right now, David, the one thing that we need to get out of our vocabulary is ‘close a school.’ We are not closing a school, we are displacing students. That building is still going to be open. (The Education Center) is still going to be open. We have not closed anything,” DeCastro said.

“Tommy, every place has done this, Liverpool, Syracuse, everyone has closed an elementary school and re-worked how they do things,” White responded.

“Let’s see what it saves us to put (option three) into place,” Dunsmoor suggested. “Let’s put this to bed for tonight and let them come back with numbers.

“If we’re doing this thing, are we saying nobody loses their job?” White asked.

“No,” Tripp said.

“Then we are back to option one under a different name,” White said. “I’m not supporting this.”

“I have to go on the record as the superintendent of schools that you’re putting the district at risk financially by what you’re proposing this evening, the direction you’re proposing to take,” Crist said. This is my community, too. I am concerned about the implications of some of what has been discussed this evening, some of the direction that you’re asking all of us to move forward on. We will certainly bring information back to you on Tuesday that will be to your liking, I’m sure. But I’m concerned about the risk that you are putting the district and ultimately this community at by proposing some of the things that have been brought forth this evening.”

“If the board wants to take greater risks (with the budget), than I am presenting as a recommendation, they are free to do it,” said Pete Colucci, the district’s business manager.

Dunsmoor noted the district could be sitting on an $18 million of reserves and should budget for what it spends, not budgeting for a surplus.

“To continue to have that much surplus, I totally disagree with you on,” Dunsmoor told Colucci.

There will be a preliminary budget hearing, open to the public, on April 6. It is tentatively set to start at 7 p.m. at the OHS cafeteria.

“How can we have a public hearing on the budget when we don’t have a budget?” White said. “We’ve got to have something for them to look at.”


  1. These people are completely nuts. In what world is Dave White of all people the most sane one on the school board? I applaud him and his common sense. Using reserves will get us through this year, but what happens next year? A SCHOOL HAS TO BE CLOSED!

    And they only want to cut jobs through retirement? There’s no way that’s going to happen. This budget is going to be out of control and no cuts are even being made.

    I will be casting my “no” vote in May. The board has been discussing this for 2 months, and was making some progress, and now at the last minute, they vote 6-1 to decide they don’t want to do anything at all? Unbelievable. They essentially voted to take absolutely no action on fixing this budget problem. Tom DeCastro is out of his mind.

  2. Amanda, it is your right to vote no. Fran supported this, so you know it will benefit the tax payers. Go to the meetings and hear what’s being said. This is a much better plan.

  3. You people are all nuts!! The Board was going the in the right direction by deciding to close a school. They made a decision and now they are changing it. That makes the Board look like they don’t know what they are doing. Oh, that’s right they have no clue whats going on. I will also be voting “no” to this option in May.

    The Board needs to reconsider what they are doing. This district is not looking at the best interest of the kids. If they wanted what was best for the kids then they would not have changed their mind after they said they were going to close a school. Just because a few Leighton parents went to a Board meeting whining and crying about closing “their” school the Board has to rethink their original decision. All the board members need to be replaced one way or another.


  4. This is insane! We are going to go through this every year until we close a school. Just pick one and end it! DeCastro has a close family member that works at Leighton. Collucci’s son attends Minetto. There will always be a conflict. This board looks like they don’t have any idea what they are doing. They should all be voted out!

  5. People should understand that this mess was created by Bill Crist and Pete Colucci. No one in their right mind should expect the board to go with Option #1 or #2 given the few weeks they had to make a monumental decision. The board still doesn’t even have the figures for the repurposing of Leighton. How much will that cost? They don’t know if they are saving a dime by closing Leighton.

    Also, not only will there be retirements, but if the class sizes are changed to what DeCastro proposes, then we will certainly have less teachers. Don’t stress. They aren’t done with the budget yet. I actually have faith in this board. It’s the administration we should be concerned about.

    Last week they were told to come back with two administrative cuts. What did Bill do? He came back with the idea to cut Director of Security and rehire him under a new title. Didn’t his years in personnel teach him anything? Not only can they not guarantee John Anderson a job (they have to post the position to the public), but moving a person doesn’t constitute a cut. Duh, Bill!

    I hope that the public stands up and demands an end to the ineptitude and the deceitful behavior. Spending our hard earned tax dollars to support two failing adminstrators at a cost of around $250,000 is just too much to bear.

  6. Why not look at this in a more wholistic way. Oswego is truly a beautiful place to live, with many positive attributes. Why can’t we as a community put together some creatve advertising campaigns to draw people to Oswego. There are opportunities here for large and small business owners. It will take us all working together as a true community to make this work.

  7. I think the board made the best decision they could last night. The administration is correct that enrollment is down and the district may need to downsize. Their plan however was shortsighted and didn’t give the community the info it needed to make the best decision for the students. This is not about keeping our kids in Leighton. The redistricting plan is still going forward. To even out classroom sizes elementary age students may well find themselves going to a different school in September anyway.
    Some have called Leighton parents winers and criers but they should be thanking us for asking the questions the community needs answered! The administration REFUSED to discuss the Architectural Survey that shows what every school building in the district requires in terms of rehabilitation needs. Requests for a breakdown of operational costs building by building were met with silence. Why do you think that is? Repurposing Leighton at this time was in the best interest of a high school complex down the road, not the best interest of the district. Moving the 6th grade into the middle school this coming September when we don’t know if the construction will be completed is unfair to the 6th graders and their teachers. Even when the classrooms are done some of the 6th graders will still be in POD’s outside. I don’t see how it makes sense to rush it when we can take a year to study the information available to the community, see what elementary school (or other district space) makes the most sense to close and ensuring there are usable classrooms for the 6th grade to move into.
    No-one has suggested the district “do nothing”, we asked only that the decision be made openly and transparently. Respectfully, I would suggest more participation in the process on the part of this community. Every board meeting should be standing room only, not just the ones at crunch time.
    See you all there next Tuesday!

  8. I think everyone needs to CALM DOWN!! You need to actually pay attention to what is being said. I think we need to close a school. I think you need more than a few weeks to choose which school will close and what you will do with the building after you move out the kids. We don’t have all the information (Crist has told us NOTHING of the costs associated with the programs he wants to move into Leighton – they may cost MORE than keeping Leighton open). DeCastro’s plan makes smart cuts for this year, and proposes taking this whole next year before the next budget cycle to analyze ALL our schools for the best to close and to decide exactly what would go in the vacated school and at what cost. To say the Leighton parents were “whiny” about “thier school” is innacurate and ridiculous. Leighton was named the BEST elementary school for our students by the 2007 comprehensive study (and in case you’re wondering, my kids won’t go there next year), Leighton is the biggest, costs the least in repairs and upkeep, it’s the newest, has the most students, and the most walkers. Considering we have multiple other buildings with mold issues, temporary walls that need replacing, portable units on their front lawns, and other structural problems and enrollment deficiencies, it seems crazy to not even examine our other options. I also think that the administration has not been forthcoming on it’s repurposing plans, and the bigger the building you give them to fill, the more it will cost to fill it!
    Hannibal is looking at a situation where in order to not lose everything but mandated academic curriculum (we’re talking cutting the yearbook for crying out loud!) they have to raise taxes up to 28%!! They have nothing in reserves! We have over $12 million dollars in reserves and run a surplus between 1 and 4 million dollars EVERY YEAR. For those who were paying attention, option 3 includes a tax REFUND to taxpayers of this years surplus…so how is this hurting our economy exactly?? You should also know that as voters, you are not voting on what’s in the budget, only the $$ amount…and if you vote it down, the contingency costs MORE. So go ahead and vote it down, you’ll spend more money that way – really smart of you.

  9. The BOE should look for options to make the best decision for this community. KUDOS to the BOE! If at some point a building should be closed, then a serious study (with pros and cons) and rationale should explain to all parents and taxpayers why a particular building was chosen. You will all know and see that Leighton is NOT that building! Simple as that!

  10. Bottom line, constantly putting off any hard decisions is completely insane. We will have to make up the gap that is being plugged with reserves in the future. This will be the second year in a row that the school district raids the reserves. Yes, reserves should be used to ease the burden on taxpayers, but it needs to be accompanied with cuts. The OCSD is way out of line for where it should be. They absolutely need to close a school and stop putting off the decision. Unfortunately, due to the short-sightedness of DeCastro and others, when the Nuke plants come back with more revenue, it will just be used to continue to fund OCSD’s financial largesse, instead of decrease the tax burden. If they keep being indecisive and playing these games, we all get screwed. I will be voting no and I hope the school district is forced to go to contingency budget so that they can take action on closing a school, cutting staff, etc. The Leighton parents may see it as a victory for now, but I think the community is fed up with funding such a huge school district for so few kids. If the budget gets voted down in May, the tables may again turn, and I will do everything in my power to have the budget defeated.

  11. Let’s take a simple look at what is going on (or not going on here)
    1. Let’s close a school! We need to save money.
    2. No! Don’t close our school!
    3. Okay, We won’t.

    Steps 1 through 3 go around over and over.

    What happens: Nothing. (Well, except that everyone who’s been targeted feels some sort of relief so there’s a FALSE sense of security and that something is being done.

    Why doesn’t someone actually DO something instead of playing politics??????

  12. This is obviously a community divided. There is no denying that this a stuggling city. There is no denying that enrollment has gone down greatly in our schools. I believe it is necessary to close a school. I do not believe that our superintendent offered the right choice. As a member of the relocation committee I can tell you that our charge was specifically to find housing for administrative offices. The committee identified the building which they felt was the ideal location for these offices in the event the education center sells. The true issue we are debating and that the board is struggling with is closing or repurposing a school for economic and enrollment decline reasons. Although it would be easier to go along with the one school option given the board, if the choice is not based on sound reason and proper consideration is that the correct action to take? The majority of the board do not believe Leighton meets the requirements for closing a school under the reasons of economics and enrollment decline. I understand the frustration that if they put it off now they will never act. As tax payers we all have a vested interest in how our tax money is being utlized. I think it is in all our best interest that we allow the board time to do what they feel necessary -investigate the many options that are available and choose a school that is the best decision economically and educationally. Working against each other will get us no where fast.

  13. I applaud the leadership the board showed last night. They proved that there is someone out there looking r. Crist has failed to provide information asked for time and again by the board. There has been no talk of what the cost of repurposing Leighton into district offices and another yet to be identified program. Mr Crist has stated it is too early to discuss. His claim that transportation costs will not increase seems impossible since roughly 150 students at Leighton who now walk would be bussed. There has also been no discussion of costs to renovate elementary schools that have already been identified as being in need of repair. In addition where do the administrations priorities lie when a committee in 2007 identified a school other than Leighton to class as being best for the children, yet the Superintendent chooses to go with the recommendations of the committee charged with finding the best place for the administration with no regard for the children. Mr. DeCastro’s proposal does make cuts, has 0% tax levy increase, and involves the least distruption to the entire elementary population, beiginning with minimum class sizes which will shrink the number of classrooms. To say it is a do nothing proposal is inaccurate.

    I applaud the board for showing the honest, common sense leadership that appears to be lacking in the administration. As a parent and informed taxpayer the budget proposed by Mr. DeCastro has my full support and I applaud him.

  14. Rebecca, it IS a do nothing proposal because it still entails the status quo level of spending. Where, in DeCastro’s proposal, does he reduce a dime in costs? He wants no teacher layoffs because his daughter is a teacher at Leighton and is low in the seniority list. Plugging with reserves is nothing but a temporary fix. This is ridiculous. When are they EVER going to cut spending?

    If it’s final that all 5 elementary schools will be open next year, they darn sure better get a committee going RIGHT NOW to close a school by 2011-12 because this is insanity. I am so disappointed in Fran Hoefer for supporting a proposal that does nothin gto cut spending. Plugging with reserves just means us taxpayers get no tax relief when the Nuke Plants go back on the tax rolls.

  15. Gosh, I think some of you are right. Let’s cut librarians and art, take planning away from teachers and add to their curriculum, while increasing class sizes and do it on less money, because God forbid we dip into our reserves! We ARE in the business of making money… oh wait! Did I hear something about educating children?

  16. Parent,
    Reserves CAN NOT be made up. After all of this is done, we have to pay for it with either increased taxes, or the same cuts NEXT year. The way the school board wants to do it, they just want to use the reserves to justify their massive spending. Reserves do not come from a magical tree that regrows and bears fruit on a yearly basis. Should the reserves be given back to the taxpayers? ABSOLUTELY! There’s no reason or justification for as large of the reserves that we have. The use of reserves needs to be met with cuts to spending so that nothing is depleted. The school board fully intends to keep up its levels of spending.

    Why would anyone be opposed to taking away planning time from our underworked teachers? They could have the same amount of planning time if they came in 30 minutes earlier and left 30 minutes later and worked an 8 hour day like the rest of the world. Our teachers need to wake up, face reality, and start working for a living.

  17. Please listen to the facts and not to hearsay. While it is true the cuts will not be as significant with option 3, there are still cuts in positions and some programs. The entire savings is NOT going to come out of the reserves.
    We will gain just one year to work for the BEST solution for the district, not some indefinite number of years.
    One of the reasons Fran Hoefer voted in favor of option 3 is it returns some of the reserves to the taxpayers.
    Before you vote on the final budget, remember to read the contingency budget. It spends more money!
    Nost important of all, come to the meetings!

  18. My point was not that reserves could be made up. It was that when our school makes a budget they should not PLAN for money to be put into reserves. Meet what you need and stop being greedy. Or stop worrying about spending it.

    Interestingly enough I AM a teacher, and I DO go in 30 minutes early (at minimum) and stay at least that long after the students leave. I often put in a 10 hour day AT school and then come home to do lessons or grading at home. My “planning” times during the day are most regularly spent answering parent phone calls and emails, addressing students needs and enrichment opportunities, setting up meetings and making sure that my curriculum is absolutely prepared (copies, etc.) so that my students can learn in the best manner possible. Maybe it’s not our teachers who need to start being realistic.

Comments are closed.