Johnstown school board eyes enrollment decline

The Board of Education plans to hire a consultant to study the district’s enrollment, staff and faci

The Board of Education plans to hire a consultant to study the district’s enrollment, staff and facility needs and to work with a community task force to recommend how to deal with “our struggle with declining enrollment,” as Assistant Superintendent Kathy Sullivan put it.

The board held a workshop meeting Wednesday and listened as Geoffrey Davis, superintendent of the Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES, outlined five different options for the study.

Nearly everyone acknowledged that any study and resulting recommendations for change are going to divide the community.

“You should be commended as a board for having the courage to take a look at this … very difficult issue,” Davis said.

“Whether it’s minor redistricting, closing a school or developing a five-year plan, no matter what decision is made, some people will be unhappy,” he said.

Davis told board members that it’s important that they stress that this is a fact-finding mission and that officials have no presumptions about the results.

Whatever the result, the numbers speak to the issue. In 1978 the Greater Johnstown School District had 2,571 students enrolled. The number as of Monday was 1,875, a decrease of 37 percent.

That means there are empty rooms in the city’s four neighborhood elementary schools so buildings aren’t being used to their capacities.

Board member Bob Kosowicz said that with the cost of energy and rising taxes, this is the time to look at the issue.

He said officials everywhere run into public opposition when issues like this are debated. Kosowicz said the board needs to work with the public and be as transparent as possible.

He said the public needs to know that no decisions have been made ahead of time but to also “tell people that we’re serious, it’s not just another idea that will wither on the vine.”

Davis said contracting with a retired administrator — he said there are four who are interested in consulting work — would cost about $2,500 to $6,000 and take four to six weeks.

Board member Susanne Fitzgerald said she liked the idea of having an objective outside party conduct the study and facilitate the task force.

School board member Joanne Freeman agreed. “It has to be an independent person but we have to involve the community,” she said.

Board Vice President Scott Miller said, “Absolutely. It’s a community decision.”

As for the other options, Davis said he wouldn’t recommend that the board conduct the study itself and said BOCES could do the job but couldn’t start for nine to 12 months.

State groups such as the Rural School Boards Association and the New York State School Boards Association could do the study as well, but the cost could be as high as $15,000.

Board members told Davis and Sullivan that they want to start interviewing potential consultants as soon as possible.

Categories: Schenectady County

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