The Niskayuna Central School District Board of Education voted Tuesday night to keep Birchwood Elementary School open for the 2014-15 school year.
The vote came amid concern over whether the board had received enough information to make a decision. Some members were also concerned over the basic district policy on school closure and whether a committee formed last year met the criteria under the policy.
The board, however, did vote to reallocate students between the five elementary schools, commonly called redistricting.
The decision not to close a school was met with loud applause from the packed Van Antwerp Middle School auditorium.
Before the board took its formal vote, board member Robert Winchester tried to lay out the road ahead. The board still has a budget to put together.
“The decision we’ve made, if we vote tonight as I expect we will, is going to hurt. It’s going to hurt in a lot of areas,” Winchester said.
He said the community has to understand why the board will be making those decisions, rather than implementing one of the options that included closing a school.
“I hope that you understand that we’ll do the best we can,” Winchester added, “but those things do impact kids and programs and people and parents.”
Closing an elementary school was estimated to save $415,000. The budget gap the board could have to close has been estimated at as much as $2.6 million.
The board officially voted to table the discussion on closing a school for the year. Had the board decided to close a school, that decision was needed quickly to start the process.
Now, the only task to be completed on that front is redistricting of students. That could be complete, with parents notified which school their children will attend, by mid-March.
The board has been considering three options presented by its Facilities Utilization Advisory Committee, That committee was expected to fulfill a requirement for consideration of closing a school. Some board members Tuesday night, however, questioned whether it actually met the requirements. Board president Deb Oriola said she didn’t believe it included the professionally trained experts the policy called for.
Superintendent Susan Kay Salvaggio told the board it did meet the requirements. When a board member asked what the school district's attorney said, that led to a brief executive session.
When the board came out, Winchester moved to table the discussion for the year.
Board member Kevin Laurilliard noted everyone’s goal is to get a balanced budget without cutting programs, but he said more information was needed than what the board had.
“My perspective is I have not been shown that we can’t do that this year without closing a school,” Laurilliard said. “I have questions. I still have questions.”
Board member John Buhrmaster said he believed the board handled the whole issue poorly. He apologized to Salvaggio and staff that the board put them through all the questions for naught.
“We’re doing the best we can. Nobody wants to close a school,” Buhrmaster said. “But, you know what? The options aren’t very good no matter which way we look."
Board member Barbara Mauro said the prevailing sentiment from the public she’s received is that “the community wants a plan, they want rational decision-making, they want us to look at data, they want us to be transparent.”
If a building is closed, she said more information is needed about the future.
“It has to be part of an overall plan,” Mauro said.