The work to turn Oneida, Mont Pleasant and Central Park into middle schools for the sixth, seventh and eighth grades won’t raise local taxes a cent, school officials said at Wednesday’s school board meeting.
Using two different state funding sources, the city school district could afford a $70 million project without local money. That would cover all of Phase I and additional work that would have been in Phase II, Superintendent Laurence Spring said.
The district would normally have to pay up to 5 percent of the project, with the state covering the rest. But in Schenectady’s case, another state funding source would cover that local share, Spring said.
To view preliminary design plans, click HERE.
The public will be asked to vote on the expenditure on Tuesday, Feb. 25. Even though the project won’t cost the district more, a “yes” vote would authorize the district to move forward with its plan to convert all schools to K-5, 6-8 and 9-12.
There has been significant opposition to the plan from those who want to keep at least some K-8 buildings in the district. They said they wanted the district to instead spend money on renovating and expanding elementary schools to add more K-8s, with the goal of either substantially reducing the Mont Pleasant Middle School population or eliminating the middle school program altogether.
But that opposition has quieted recently, and residents have stopped coming to school board meetings to argue against the middle school model.
School board members debated the issue at length before deciding that K-8 buildings would not be truly equal because some would be too small for traditional advanced-placement classes. Spring also argued that three smaller middle schools would be far better than the one large middle school in place now.
If the referendum passes, the three middle schools would open as schools for grades sixth through eight in September 2016.
The project also includes adding a second-story wing to Howe Elementary School, giving the district four much-needed classrooms. This will be crucial because the district plans to close Elmer Elementary School in September 2016 as well and needs classroom space elsewhere for all of those children.
The project would add support spaces at Van Corlaer Elementary School as well. The school has squeezed extra classrooms out of every nook and cranny. The award-winning ESL program is run in a former industrial closet, among other inventive uses of space.
School officials noted that those spaces have poor lighting and ventilation. They plan to turn the stage area in the gym into three rooms, eliminate storage rooms in favor of classrooms and renovate a kitchen into a room.
School board member Ron Lindsay said he wasn’t pleased by the proposal, particularly since the building principal hadn’t seen it yet.
He said the school needed its stage. Teachers have also complained about the loss of storage space — the building is so cramped that the balcony overlooking the stage has been used for storage.
The design team promised to show their plans to the building leaders at each school and emphasized that they were preliminary sketches.
But they won’t be preliminary for long. On Dec. 18, the board will vote on the project scope and budget. On Jan. 8, the board will vote on the resolutions needed to hold the referendum.
If either of those deadlines is missed, the referendum might be delayed.
Board President Cathy Lewis said the timing was so tight that the board couldn’t afford even a week’s delay between now and Jan. 8.
“We can’t have any snow days,” she said. “I’m quite serious. We cannot have a snow day the 18th.”