December 18, 2014

Future of Hartnett School unclear


Staff Reporter

TRUXTON — Closing Hartnett Elementary School, selling the school or rescinding a vote to repurpose it are all possible outcomes for the building after Homer school district residents struck down a loan to renovate the school to turn it into a new technology and project-based high school.
Residents voted down on Tuesday the proposed $5.8 million bond with721 ballots for the bond and 945 against it.
Homer Board of Education members said in telephone interviews Wednesday they did not know what would happen to the building the board voted to repurpose on Aug. 19.
And while Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES continues to plan for a New Tech High School in Cortland County, District Superintendent Jody Manning said the 23-school district consortium needs to discuss where the school will ultimately be located.
The lease between BOCES and the Homer Central School District is now void as there was a contingency in the agreement that the bond for the renovations had to pass, Manning said.
“It was conditioned on the bond because of the work that needed to be done in that building,” he said.
“I truly was disappointed with the vote,” Kimberly Sharpe, a board member and Truxton resident, said. “My fear has always been that if the vote was no, the school board would vote to close the building, so I am really disappointed.”
Sharpe said she had no idea what direction the board would go with the school as the board did not discuss what it would do if the bond was voted down.
But Sharpe outlined some options the board could consider, noting there may be others she was unaware of.
“The way I understand it, one option would be to move to close the building,” Sharpe said. “The other option would be to possibly sell the building.”
Another possible option would be to rescind the vote to repurpose the school and keep it open, she said.
It is unclear how BOCES will react to the vote and if there are any possible options with the group, Sharpe said.
BOCES needs to strategize what to do next in light of the vote, Manning, said in a phone interview.
Superintendents from Cortland, Homer, McGraw, Marathon and Cincinnatus school districts all said at a regularly scheduled BOCES meeting on Wednesday they were committed to opening the New Tech high school in the southern portion of the 23-school BOCES district, Manning said.
Less than 24 hours after the voting results were announced, BOCES had not yet discussed continuing with the project at Truxton without the renovations or considering other possible locations for the school, he said.
Planning meetings for the future of the New Tech high school project will begin after the holidays, Manning said. No timeline for a decision on the project has yet been established, he said.
Homer school board member Bill Pedrick, who also sits on the BOCES board, said he did not know whatBOCES might do now that the renovation bond was voted down.
The BOCES board never discussed what would happen if the bond did not pass, he said.
There is also disagreement over whether the district’s vote to repurpose the school is enough for the district to remove all the students and staff, in effect closing the school.
The board of education would have to take another vote to close the school if the students were removed, Sharpe said.
“Yes, we would have to go through the closure (procedures) through state education,” she said.
But the vote to close the school rests solely with the board and would not go to a public vote, Sharpe noted.
Randy Weatherby, a member of the school board, disagreed with Sharpe and said the repurposing vote was enough to transfer the students and staff to other schools.
“That doesn’t need any further action that I’m aware,” Weatherby said. “It’s just a matter of moving the students and staff to another building.”
A spokeswoman for the state education department declined to answer an email sent last week asking what action is needed to close Hartnett Elementary School.
“Because the Commissioner (of Education John King Jr.) may be required to rule on an appeal in this matter, we cannot comment,” Jeanne Beattie, a spokeswoman with the department, stated.
In the meantime, a ruling is still pending on a challenge filed Friday with the department of education. In his challenge, Truxton resident and Town Board member Lloyd Sutton accused the district of using public funds to exhort voters to pass the bond and deliberately releasing inaccurate information about the project. A ruling is not expected for months.
While Homer Superintendent of Schools Nancy Ruscio returned a call for comment Wednesday, she was not available when a reporter called back this morning.
Board President Sonia Apker declined to comment, while board members Luke Morenus, Katharine Dwyer, Mary Beth Mathey, Martin Sweeney and David Quinlan could not be reached.

To read this article and more, pick up today's Cortland Standard
Click here to subscribe