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Johnstown school district mulls closing elementary school

Johnstown school district mulls closing elementary school

District has large deficit and declining enrollment
Johnstown school district mulls closing elementary school
Knox Junior High School’s athletic field, of Johnstown School District, in Johnstown on Monday, June 3, 2019.
Photographer: Erica Miller

JOHNSTOWN -- A little over 10 years ago the Greater Johnstown School District decided to close its Jansen Avenue Elementary School in response to shrinking enrollment and rising costs. Now, facing the same situation, the financially strapped district will consider doing it again, this time with Glebe Street Elementary School. 

School board Vice President Kathryn Zajicek on Thursday night said the district's long-term advisory planning committee, made up of community members, has finished its work with the district's education consultants, Syracuse-based Castallo & Silky, and next month will present the school board with a "study document" showing the potential impact of closing Glebe Street. The presentation will take during the board's Sept. 17 meeting. 

Zajicek confirmed that the consultants have determined that closing Glebe Street could save between $355,000 and $360,000 annually. Most of the savings would come from cutting staff ($345,000) and the rest would be from utility costs ($12,500). 
"The study document of what they found will be presented to the public, the board, and then we'll move forward with that in September," Zajicek said. 

Johnstown has been grappling with a financial crisis for the last several years, and projects that it will continue to struggle. The school district had an annual budget deficit of $4.3 million until district voters on June 18 approved a $37.87 million, 2019-20 budget with a 14.6 percent tax levy increase. That budget may have cut the deficit by as much as $1 million. The district projects it will need 15 percent tax levy increases for each of the next three years in order to restore fiscal stability. However, because of the state tax cap, the budgets will need 60 percent voter approval.

Closing another elementary school to save money was suggested by members of the public as a way to save money during the district's budget process. The long-term advisory planning committee was appointed by the board to examine the idea.

Since closing Jansen school, Johnstown has lost about 330 students, the equivalent of one of its elementary schools.

Prior to hiring Castallo & Silky, Superintendent Patricia Kilburn cautioned the school board and the public that closing another elementary school would likely not result in savings as great as the district saw when it closed Jansen because not as many staff would be eliminated.

In 2009, closing Jansen resulted in $882,499 for the 2009-10 school year and about $4.9 million over the next five years. 

Thursday night the school board accepted the resignation of Glebe Street Principal Abbey North and appointed former Johnstown elementary school principal Joyce Caputo as an interim principal.

The consultants also advised the district to find a buyer or lease out the school building. 

After closing Jansen, Johnstown attempted to find a buyer for the building for several years before finally deciding to allow the HFM BOCES to locate its P-Tech high school there. 

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