About 200 parents, teachers and students packed the Van Antwerp Middle School auditorium Monday, urging the Board of Education not to close the school.
School officials are studying whether to send all the Niskayuna Central School District’s middle school students to Iroquois. One option would involve sending sixth graders back to each of the five elementary schools and keeping Iroquois as a grade seven and eight school. Another variation would move the sixth graders to the elementary schools for just one year until Iroquois could be expanded to house all sixth- through eighth- graders in a subsequent year.
Initially, school officials were talking about how the program could benefit from combining schools. As the district is facing a $4.3 million budget gap for 2013-2014, Superintendent Susan Kay Salvaggio said that now the conversation has to shift to the financial implications.
Closing Van Antwerp would save roughly $800,000, according to Assistant Superintendent for Business Matt Bourgeois.
“It is a significant amount of money, but it by no means closes our gap,” he said. “The reductions would have to come from some other component of the budget.”
More than two dozen speakers urged the board not to close the school.
Parent Wade Beltramo said one reason initially given for combining the schools was a consultant’s report that said there seemed to be inconsistency in expectations of students and experiences offered at the two schools.
“There seemed to be no feeling or sentiment that there was a problem among the parents or students as far as a discrepancy in the education they are receiving,” he said.
He worried that the enrollment may rise again one day and the district would have to spend funds to reopen Van Antwerp, which he called the heart of the community.
Kim Thurn said she has two children with special needs and they are thriving. She did not want to see her daughter, who is in sixth grade at Van Antwerp, have to be sent to Iroquois.
“I’m concerned about my kids getting lost in that mega school. It’s dear to my heart,” she said, holding back tears. “If we want a mega school, we would have moved and paid less taxes in another district to send our kids to a mega school.”
The benefits of a single seventh- and eighth-grade middle school would be more opportunities for teachers to collaborate, consistency of the middle school program and experience, reduced need for teachers to travel between buildings and more chances for students to socialize with other students before high school, according to Deborah Shea, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
Music teacher Denise Lamb said pushing the sixth-graders back into elementary school would make it impossible for them to participate in band or orchestra.
“You will destroy a program that has taken years to build and is the envy of all the schools in our area and even statewide,” she said.
Colton Jaquith, a seventh-grader at Van Antwerp, said he likes that he can walk to the school and everyone from the janitors to the teachers are nice. “My parents have taught me to speak up when something is not right and it’s not right,” he said.
School board President Deborah Oriola said the board still has questions and at its next meeting, at 7 p.m. Dec. 18 at Van Antwerp, it will talk more about the expenses involved if the district decides to close the school.