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Oswego School Superintendent Proposes Closing Leighton

OSWEGO, NY – Oswego School Superintendent Bill Crist has proposed closing Frederick Leighton Elementary School and transforming it into the new education center.

At the school board’s budget workshop tonight (Feb. 23) Crist explained that the school’s Pre-Kindergarten through grade five students would be relocated to the other four elementary buildings.

And, the sixth graders would join the seventh and eighth graders in Oswego Middle School, in the four additional classrooms that will be completed this summer, Crist said.

Bonnie Finnerty, OMS principal, has been able to reconfigure her school in a way to allow for the introduction of the sixth grade, Crist said. The elementary principals have also been working on a similar plan, he added.

“Given that, it appears we can reduce staff to as point without impacting programs significantly at this point,” he said. “It would allow for the district to move forward then in a more efficient manner. It allows the district to not be attached to state aid numbers that are going to continue to fluctuate. We know now that our state is not in a solvent condition … I don’t see that correcting for at least the next two to three years.”

The district still doesn’t know what the impact from Nine Mile one and two will be on the budget, he added.

“Six, seven and eight at the middle school, I like that concept,” Board President Sam Tripp said.

But, he was a bit concerned about the number of students that would be at the school.

Historically, Crist said, the school had at one point just under 900 students. The school will have an addition this summer, he continued.

“We confident we can add the sixth grade into our present middle school,” he told the board.

Board member John Dunsmoor was irked at getting such a proposal at the meeting without having had time to study it beforehand.

“To show up at a meeting and have this thrown at me, I’ll take Whitey’s stand on this one,” he said of fellow board member Dave White’s instance of having material prior to the meetings so that they can at least have an idea of what they are discussing.

“I’ll think about it. I’ll hash is out, but I don’t like it,” Dunsmoor continued. “Our problem isn’t our buildings. To maintain a building and then mothball it; now we’re going take the Ed Center and put it in the whole building down to Leighton? That’s nuts! We don’t need the whole Ed Center down there. We need the print shop back where it was, we need the food services back where it was. We used to have a little building down at the corner of (West) Utica (Street) and Hillside (Avenue) that housed the Ed Center, about the size of the portables because we didn’t have so many things in it. We don’t need a whole lot of space to move this Ed Center.”

“This is just one option that we came up with,” Finnerty said. “There are other options.”

White agreed with Dunsmoor.

Contacting Oswego County Today from Florida, White said it is a little late in the budget process to throw a major proposal like this on the table.

“They knew the position we were in (financially),” White said. “Now, we have no choice. We have to have the right information to make sound decisions. We can’t just have something like this sprung on us.”

White added he still proposes the district should take a look at what is the least it needs to provide educational services, and then add on from there as revenues allow.

The district is facing a potential $5.5 million budget gap, Crist said. That would mean a 2.54 percent tax levy increase.

“It’s painful to even suggest it; it’s painful to even recommend it. But, when you look at a $5.5 million budget gap with a state that has given no indication that they are going to provide any assistance to us today, tomorrow or down the road the next two or three years – that’s a concern,” the superintendent said.

“I wish we cold say the situation is going to be solved by what’s on the horizon at Nine Mine one and two. But I can’t bank on that right now, either,” Crist continued, referring to the tax negotiation going on with the owners of the nuclear power plants.

“We’re not going to save any money by closing a building and throwing the staff out. They’re all going to relocate to the other buildings,” Dunsmoor said. “If you redistrict to get closer to the 25 (class size), that’s serving the same purpose.”

“John, we looked at trying to get to more efficient class sizes as (board member) Fran (Hoefer) has suggested,” Crist said.

“That doesn’t mean relocate a whole school,” Dunsmoor countered.

“The reason we’re having this problem is that whenever anything progressive is proposed, there’s massive opposition,” Hoefer noted.

“Before we people out on the street,” board member Tom DeCastro said there is another, extremely unpopular, option to consider.

Eliminating all after-school activities has the potential of saving the district millions. He wasn’t proposing the move, he only wanted people to be aware of the option, he explained.

Crist said his plan doesn’t eliminate programs, “it provides for efficient operation, more efficient than we’ve done. It provides class sizes that are appropriate but not over-crowded … and the special services that makes Oswego unique.”

21 Comments

  1. This is what needs to happen. The school district cannot continue to operate like it has with so many less children. I feel that by consolidating the elementary schools, it will allow the district to increase class size and eliminate staff. Salaries and benefits are the largest part of the budget and in order to make any progress, the board needs to eliminate a substantial number of staff members. I commend Mr. Crist for his move in responding to the budget crisis and the consistent downsizing of the OCSD population.

    As for Dunsmoor and White, this proposal came about about two months ago, and now Crist is just recommending that they act on it. For them to feign ignorance and shock makes no sense. I feel they are playing games and trying to appeal to the vocal minority that will no doubt show up screaming at the next board meeting. Make no mistake — when they wanted to close Kingsford in 2004, a majority of the community supported it. The board backed down because of a very vocal minority. When they wanted to close Minetto in 2007, the majority of the community supported it. Again, they backed down from a vocal minority. It’s time to stop playing these games and get it done.

    In response to shrinking enrollment, schools need to close and teachers need to be laid off, and those that remain need to work harder. That is the bottom line.

    Let’s close Leighton, and get that out of the way, then move onto OMS and OHS and concentrate on getting those teachers to work more than a 3.5 hour day.

  2. Amanda, how much will save closing Leighton? How much will it cost to retro-fit the school to fit the administration? I’m surprised that you think it is a good idea to move students out of one of the best buildings (maintance-wise) to put administration into. The ed. center isn’t sold yet. So how much will be to maintain that building now? How much will the new busing cost to bus kids that live by the lake over to Minetto? Amanda, have some compassion for the families that this affects instead of calling them cry-babies…I think if you had children, you would realize you want what is best for your child. This closure will affect every student in grades k-8. I’m all for getting the taxes under control, but this is premature.

  3. It would be easier to close Minetto and shift those kids to Riley, Leighton and Kingsford than to start bussing kids that now WALK to school 5 miles away in Minetto . Cayuga College is looking for a new location – sell them Minetto. Collucci kids probably go there so that happen.
    How about sending one bus to pick up High School and Middle School kids instead of sending two running nose to tail twice a day? Before the District took over the bussing we all rode the same bus . I know of no other school in the area that does this. Think of what you could save on fuel and equipment and you could reduse the # of drivers.

  4. Amanda,
    You’ve got it backwards. The proposal was given two months ago as a measure to secure space for the ed center staff should the building sell, not if the budget goes south. That is probably why the board seemed shocked. Crist is just throwing out anything that he can to make it look like he has a plan. There are no numbers to show that this particular move saves money. In fact, I’m willing to bet that it will cost us a boatload more. Just because someone comes up with an idea doesn’t mean that it’s a good one!

    Kudos to John and Dave for not jumping on the bandwagon. This district has been too reactionary in the past. Take it slow and easy and come up with the best plan for the students and the taxpayers.

    I hope that the public will take this for what it is. I half-baked idea with no numbers to support it. Where is the cost savings? How much will it cost to repurpose Leighton? How much extra fuel and buses? How much to maintain the ed center until it sells? These are just a few of the questions that the board needs answers to before blindly following Crist.

  5. Agreed — attempt to seel the current Ed center, then worry about it. We would be essentially paying for 2 buildings at that point — lets be honest — who would want the Ed Center ? How about you start by giving the raise back as a sign of good faith in your plan?

    Mark

  6. I think Mr. Crist should take back his request for a retroactive 3% raise and his request for a additional 30 paid days off a year.
    This may not be the actual numbers on the table, but he has requested a raise that he wants to be retroactive back to sometime, and he has asked for additional paid personal days off.

  7. This is probably the most insane theory the school district has come up with. Why not go through with the original proposal to close the Minetto school and bus those students to Oswego? After all Minetto is the only Town in the district that has its own school. Scriba never got the school they were promised when they came into the district, Oswego Town doesn’t have a school in their Town. Leave the District office where it is until the building is sold and then relocate it to a new and smaller building. It was a big mistake buying the building in the first place but lets not compound the error.

  8. Parents of kids K-8 across the district need to rally and stop the district from doing this without plans. If there are empty classroom across the district, put the offices there instead of closing a building, so they can maintain two. I understand if teachers/staff/drivers/aides/custodians/assistants need to be laid-off. It probably does need to happen. However, is the district considering cutting the director of mathematics, director or data-analysis, teachers on assignment, director of athletics, director of ela—these are all jobs that the Assistant Superintendent can do. There is a million dollars right there. How about cutting the costs and get rid of programs like curriculum mapping that cost the district literally thousands of dollars a year. Maybe we don’t need JV sports (or as many JV sports as we offer now) for a just a year or 2. Perhaps we want to look at a pay-for-play program for sports for a year. How about extending walker routes a bit and save on busing. If I’m not mistaken, almost 1/3 of leighton school are walkers, which would mean they need to be busing students now. I’ll tell you, the administration in the district just want that building for themselves. They’ll say it isn’t that way-but they are lying right to your face. They want it to eventually turn it into a multi-million dollar (tax-payer funded) sports complex. Maybe we should eliminate all of the upper administration and start fresh (Crist, Chamberlain, Colutti). Get some people in there from other parts of the state or the country that can understand how to run a district from a student perspective. Parents across the district, this move will affect your child in negative ways, even if it isn’t your school closing. You need to get involved. I want lower taxes, they’re outrages. But not at the cost of providing a better place for the adults of this district. John Dunsmoor is absolutely correct in being upset with this.

  9. Im confused why board members maybe opposed to this. He is proposing closing a building and eliminating positions. Is that what you have been after him to do? He makes a proposal to save the district money and members are against it, or are you opposed to anything he says. There is also savings to be had if you stop paying coaches who are not coaching. Your paying coaches who are staff members not to coach so that you can have people outside the district coach teams. Does this board have an agenda???? Start saving money there.

  10. As long as the school board prohibits the administrators from remodeling Leighton to make it comfortable and luxurious for themselves, this is a good plan. With the current elementary school structure, it is difficult for the school district to reduce staff to an appropriate level. Consolidating will allow the school district to reduce staff and increase class sizes while still keeping them within an allowable range.

    The administrators should just have their belongingings dropped off inside of a classroom, and have that be the end of it. They do not need to restructure the building to make the offices the way they would like them. Just because Cathy Chamberlain has a personal kitchen in her office at the ed center doesn’t mean they will need to remodel Leighton to get her one there. She will have to do without.

    Closing Minetto is out of the question as Colucci’s kids go there. I am not sure why they don’t close Fitzhugh though, the oldest school building.

    Closing an elementary school is very long overdue. It is what needs to be done to reduce OCSD’s bloated staff levels.

    From what I understand, Crist’s raise is still on the table as there has not yet been a regular school board meeting since he put in his request. The past 2 have been workshops with no regular agenda. At this point, I don’t anticipate the board giving it to him, but you never know with some of these people.

  11. I guarantee you (FOIL the information with the district), they want to turn Leighton into a multi-million dollar sports complex/administration office area. This isn’t about saving money, it is the arrogance of the upper administration of the district. Heading the closing comittee-principal of Minetto; Colucci-son goes to Minetto; Minetto is the most worn down school in need of repairs, again Minetto parents, I’m not attacking you at all, but that should be the school to “retro fit”. Jerry, you know they aren’t going to take their boxes and drop them, they are going to want lavish office space. People of the community, don’t allow this. Have administration cut their department and work out of a trailer rather than disrupt 584 kids, and shuffle everyone else in the schools. They can cut staff without closing a school.

  12. That’s right Jerry and Doctors don’t work when they are not with a patient. Lawyers don’t work when they are not with a client, nurses don’t work when they are not in a patient’s room. Cops don’t work when they are not arresting someone. Secretaries don’t work when they are not taking calls, and you’re not workng when you post on this website.

  13. While I feel differently about the hours teachers work (and agree with Sarah – teachers need to plan, meet with students, grade papers, meet or call parents, etc., to prepare to teach for those five periods) I also see the reality of our situation. Closing a school is a good choice, although I am not sure FLS is the right choice. There are many reasons why it should be the last one closed, as proposed in the report earlier this year.

    As for the unions giving back, I cannot see them doing this unless the district will state, in writing, that no positions will be cut. CSEA took a wage freeze a few years ago and has still lost many positions. Why would any union, including CSEA, entertain a wage freeze if the district is still going to cut and cut and cut?

  14. I think people should read the report on the school district’s website. It shows that if this proposal goes through, they will be able to cut back 13 teachers at the elementary level. They could also fire 1 principal, cut back support staff, etc. With the outrageous salary and benefits that OCTA members make, cutting back 13 teachers alone would save nearly a million dollars. A million dollars that will not have to be spent next year or ever again. This proposal absolutely needs to go through. The taxpayers cannot take it anymore. The closing a school proposal has come up 3 times since 2004 and it’s time to finally do it. Enrollment has drastically shrunk.

    Let me also remind everyone that it was advertised last May, that when we vote on whether to sell the ed center, if it were to be sold, they’d probably close an elementary school and move the administrators there. Here is a news10now article from May 18, the day before the vote, where Bill Crist says exactly that: http://news10now.com/cny-news-1013-content/370143/proposition-could-close-oswego-elementary-school

    With all of that information taken into account, the public overwhelmingly supported this proposition. The time to stop this was last May at the polls. Those who wanted the ed center and an elementary school closed won the vote and the board should listen to the will of the majority, not the vocal minority.

  15. Jerry-here is a link for you…from the budget presentation that the district presented to the voters…no where does it say in that, selling the ed center equals that an elementary school will close. http://www.oswego.org/files/news/5-5BudgetPP1.pdf
    Jerry, I agree that we could cut staff, but why not start with all the administrators and work our way down. I’m for cutting staff, not closing a school so the administrators can have it. BTW, that building doesn’t have air-conditioning. If the administrators take it, you watch–they’ll put it in.

  16. Jonathan, that presentation only discusses the general fund budget and only makes a brief mention of the other propositions as they were legally stated.

    I agree with you, the taxpayers do not want to pay for anything positive for administrators. Bill Crist should be fired — what does he do that differentiates him from his assistant superintendents? Cathy Chamberlain should be fired — what does she do that differentiates her from the directors of literacy and mathematics? The director of AIS and data management should be fired. Ideally, the board would prohibit the administrators from making any changes to whereever they move — they can sit at a desk inside of a classroom without any sort of kitchen, break room, air conditioning, etc. I know of course the administrators want to spend all kinds of taxpayer money to “work” (if that’s what they call it) in the lap of luxury, but I want a board that will tell them no.

  17. I’m relatively new to this school district, so I’m not entirely familiar with some of the historical issues. However, I am already well aware of the high property taxes in this district and the thought of them increasing further is very distasteful to me.
    I used to work in higher education facilities. I’ve managed projects that included things like the installation of smartboards and expansion construction and was blown away to learn that in a district with no money and high taxes, we’re building additions on the high school and middle school and installing smart boards (which I can tell you most Universities in this country still consider a luxury item that is maybe in 1 in 10 classrooms) in every classroom grades K-12?!?.
    If an elementary school closing is cost effective (and I’d like to see figures on the cost of moving the ed center – people rarely consider moving costs which can be close to a million dollars – the cost of bussing extra students who are now walkers, etc. etc.) than I would support that. (And personally, I think 5th and 6th graders belong in a middle school anyway) It seems to me that Leighton may be the worst choice of schools to close though. Being the only one story elementary school, it’s the only truly handicapped friendly building for students with special needs. It also provides the easiest expansion potential should enrollment raise in the future instead of having to re-open a closed school should that happen. Programs that encourage positive interraction between high school and elementary students are a positive thing and Leighton provides the easiest location for that. Leighton has more underprivillaged students than other elementary schools and studies show that change has a more damaging effect on students in poorer households. Leighton parents who rely on bus transportation or walking to attend school functions, parent teacher confrences, etc. are more likely to be affected than parents in other elementary schools.
    My family has moved a lot, and I’ve seen many school districts and have yet to experience one as wasteful as Oswego. Sell your smartboards, auction off the flat screen TV’s in the high school cafeteria, close your smallest and most in need of repair elementary school (if it needs remodeling anyway, it’s the more cost effective choice to be remodelled for adult use), increase your rental revenue in the current Ed building instead of selling the building at a loss, and trim your administration fat with pay freezes and staff reductions. If you’re in a financial crisis bad enough to close a school and lay off teachers than there’s no reason to be handing out pay increases to administrators. Check your facilities department for cost reducing measures. Do we have the most effecient energy strategy in place?Did you know you can sell your recyclable paper rather than pay to have it taken away? When was the last time this district entertained bids for outsourcing its food service or facilities departments? Can some of the cost of afterschool activities be cut without cutting entire programs?
    It seems to me this district has lots of options for saving money that aren’t being fully realized and that proposals are being made based on which elementary schools parents are the loudest instead of sound fiscal data.

  18. THis is not fair for the 7th and 8th graders it has always been that way in Oswego Middle School and always should be. The 6th graders deserve another year in elementary school before ajusting to the Middle School Schedual. Also where will you find time to fit in room for PE and lunch for the sixth graders without hurting the 7th and 8th graders time. Also, extending school hours for them is not fair!

  19. I wish there were more options than just Leighton. I wish the administrators would be cut first before we go in that direction. I hope the board of education will not be swept into a fancy powerpoint saying the sky is falling if we don’t do this. Lay-off, don’t close.

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