October 22, 2021

Committee prefers savings to closing school

Panel wants options

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Parker Elementary School third-graders, from left, Alex Hayes, Breanna Cuthbert and Nora Gambitta, find a dry patch on the playground to practice cartwheels on Tuesday during recess.

Consider options other than closing a Cortland school, members of an advisory committee told the Cortland Board of Education on Tuesday.

Closing either Parker or Virgil elementary school was the final recommendation of Castallo & Silky, a consultant firm the Cortland City School District hired a year ago to study the district’s space needs in light of the looming $27.7 million needed to repair the district’s aging facilities.

Members of the 17-person advisory committee of parents, district residents and employees said they felt blindsided by the consultant’s recommendation to close an elementary school and not pursue a middle school. Others questioned whether other cost-saving or revenue-generating options were fully considered. Another called for a public referendum on closing a school.

However, Superintendent of Schools Michael Hoose and board members said at the special meeting that the recommendations from the consultant are just that, recommendations, and nothing has been decided.

Board Vice President Judie Murphy said no options are off the table, including creating a middle school, which the consultant had found too expensive.

Committee member Stephanie Mitchell-Madden said her subcommittee had favored creating a middle school.

“At the end, it felt like the consultant had their ideas without the middle school option and we had to choose what we felt was best from there. But nobody was able to choose from those because we didn’t like all the options,” Mitchell-Madden said.

Advisory committee member Susan Byrnes, the parent of two Virgil students, said she is not sure that closing an elementary school will be avoidable, but she wants all possible revenue-generating ideas considered first.

Byrnes suggested renting out classroom spaces to programs from day-care centers or creating magnet schools to focus on particular areas of learning and possibly attract people to the district.

“Instead of giving the district a black eye by closing an elementary school … if grant money is available it’s worth looking into creating selling points for the district and looking at what are we doing as a district to promote ourselves,” she said.

Committee member Breck Aspinwall, a retired teacher, questioned whether enough cost-saving options were explored.

“Our budget process begins in the fall and it is adopted in April and we look at every area we can, but we are a very people- heavy business,” Hoose said. “And the board is even surprised it has very little discretion as far as cutting costs, other than going after people, unfortunately.”

The board plans a series of meetings in coming months as it decides what to do. The board plans to make a decision by April.