Dozens of parents packed the Schenectady City School District Board of Education meeting Wednesday to argue for K-8 schools.
It was standing room only in the hot room at Schenectady High School, but 50 parents stuck it out for hours to make their statements and then listen to the board’s debate.
They left without any answers. The board did not make a final decision, but board members suggested they might keep Central Park International Magnet School and the other three magnet schools, while reorganizing the rest of the district. Central Park and King magnet schools are the district’s original K-8 schools.
As for the rest of the schools, board member Cheryl Nechamen said K-5 is likely to be the model. The board has “pretty much decided” that, she said.
To turn every elementary school into a K-8 school would require “significant renovations and/or additions at every one of our buildings,” she said.
The district has not released cost estimates for K-8 versus K-5, so it’s not clear how much more expensive the K-8 model would be. But school board members said K-5 would be the cheapest model.
Nechamen added that with K-8s, four of the schools would be too small to offer advanced classes. But parents and other board members said the district could use distance learning to run advanced classes for those students.
After hours of discussion, Superintendent Laurence Spring counseled the board to at least continue moving toward the K-5 model.
“At any given time, we can stop and choose to go in another direction,” he said.
Lori McKenna, speaking for the district’s long-range planning committee, offered a tight schedule to change the entire district to a K-5 model. If the board agrees, voters will be asked to approve a construction loan in January.
The timeline McKenna proposed would begin redistricting students in 2014, but the older students would be allowed to stay in their school if they could “age out” by 2017. Redistricting would be finished by September 2017.
Elmer Elementary School would close in June 2016, as would FDR and Blodgett, while Oneida would reopen as a middle school in September 2016. Then the district would focus on Lincoln, Keane and Howe elementary schools, asking residents to approve a second construction loan.
Over the course of three years, the district would try to buy Keane from the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese and renovate it. Howe would also be renovated.
In June 2019, Lincoln would close. That September, Steinmetz would reopen as High Tech High. Then the district would redesign the high school to “stem the sprawl” at the very large school. If voters approve a third construction loan in 2020, the high school would be renovated by 2022.
Board members seemed somewhat stunned by the 10-year plan and its probable high cost. Some stressed they had not yet decided to go with a K-5 model.
President Cathy Lewis told them the city wouldn’t wait for them. She noted that Elmer is deteriorating rapidly due to a drainage problem and that school population will peak in 2016 with more students than the district can currently accommodate.
“We really do not have the option to do nothing,” Lewis said.
But she added that she couldn’t be sure the entire 10-year plan was realistic “because I don’t know where our finances will be.”
Many parents from Central Park appealed to the board to keep their school, which they called the best in the district. After listening to more than an hour of their comments, board members focused on that issue.
“It’s pretty clear parents like that choice [of Central Park],” Nechamen said. “It’s useful to keep that on the table.”
But board member Andrew Chestnut said Central Park was fundamentally unfair because parents must enter a lottery to get their students into the school. All four magnet schools use a lottery.
“To me, lotteries are not about equity; they’re about winners and losers,” he said. “I’m not going to support something that divides our community.”
Lewis said she was moved by a parent who challenged the board’s desire for equity. Randy Pierre said the K-5 plan would make all schools “equitably bad.”
Lewis asked whether the board could “achieve equitably good” by keeping the four magnet schools and putting foreign languages in all of them, on the theory that Central Park was the most popular magnet school because it offers foreign languages in elementary school.
The long-range planning committee will meet today to further discuss how to organize the district under the proposed model.