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Johnstown votes to close another elementary school

Johnstown votes to close another elementary school

Declining enrollment, fiscal troubles lead district's board of education to decide to permanently shutter Glebe Street Elementary
Johnstown votes to close another elementary school
Knox Junior High School’s athletic field, of Johnstown School District, in Johnstown on Monday, June 3, 2019.
Photographer: Erica Miller/Gazette Photographer

JOHNSTOWN -- Besieged by financial trouble and declining enrollment, the Greater Johnstown School Board voted 7-0 Thursday to close its Glebe Street Elementary School.

This is the second time in the past 10 years Johnstown has closed an elementary school. In 2009, it closed the Jansen Avenue Elementary School, saving $882,499 for the 2009-10 school year and about $4.9 million over the next five years.

District officials have warned closing Glebe Street will save less money than closing Jansen.

"We know this is not the sole solution to our situation," School Board President Chris Tallon said during the meeting.

School Board members Ron Beck and Patrick Oare were absent for the vote.

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 its voters approved a $37.87 million, 2019-20 budget with a 14.6 percent tax levy increase on June 18. That budget may have cut the deficit by as much as $1 million. The district projects it will need approximately 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, those tax hikes will need 60 percent voter approval.

Closing another elementary school 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.

Johnstown's consulting firm Syracuse-based Castallo & Silky has advised 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).

Tallon said the savings may be under the $345,000 projection. He said the district will save money on one school principal (state law requires every class-room school building to have one administrator), one secretary position, one school nurse and possibly one food service employee and one custodial staff member. Tallon said the elimination of the custodial worker will depend on how quickly Johnstown is able to either sell or lease Glebe Street.

Johnstown's 2019-20 school budget had funding for the salary and benefits of former Glebe Street Principal Abbey North, who resigned. She was replaced for a time by interim principal Joyce Caputo who resigned Dec. 1. She has been replaced by Johnstown's assistant high school principal Christina Lais.

Jennifer Sponnoble, a former school board member who served on the district's long-term advisory planning committee, said one priority of the planning committee was to recommend not eliminating teacher positions.

"No teachers because we did not want the [number of students] in classes to go up," she said.

Closing Jansen in 2009 required Johnstown to rearrange its elementary schools, abandoning the neighborhood school concept and replacing it with grade-level grouping. Currently Glebe Street houses Johnstown's second and third grade pupils.

Tallon said when Glebe Street closes, K-2nd will go to Pleasant Avenue School, 3rd-5th will go to Warren Street School and 6th-8th grade will be at Knox Junior High School.

Spitting Glebe Street's second and third grade students between Pleasant Avenue and Warren Street may provide some transportation savings for the district.

"Most current Glebe students that would attend Warren Street School would not qualify for door-to-door transportation," according to the July 8 "School Facilities Use Study" written by Castallo & Silky.

While Tallon said transportation costs were one element of the report that was presented to the school board, he had no specific estimate on what, if any, those savings might be. He said the key factor in the board's decision to close Glebe Street instead of Pleasant Avenue was the size of the buildings. He said Glebe Street has about 16 full-size classrooms while Pleasant Avenue has 19.

"Glebe Street does not have the appropriate full-size classroom or smaller size classroom to accommodate the student population," Tallon said.

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.

"Our first goal will be to sell it. That would be our first plan, if we cannot sell it, we'll look to lease it," Tallon said. "We're working with our attorneys to find out the proper procedure for how to put it on the market and advertise it."

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