December 8, 2021

More schools closing?

Hearing set on Parker, Virgil options

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Virgil Elementary first-graders Colbie Goodfellow, right, and classmate Aiden Dovi practice their spelling skills Wednesday at the Virgil Elementary School. Cortland City School District officials have raised the possibility of closing both the Virgil and Parker elementary schools.

CORTLAND — Cortland City School District leaders had been considering closing a school to save money. Now they may close two, and parents and residents can comment on the idea at a public hearing April 16.

The idea of closing both — Parker and Virgil elementary schools — was hashed out at a Tuesday night work session, with district officials outlining possible grade center configurations in the remaining schools, which would cluster children of similar ages in the same buildings.

Superintendent Michael Hoose said Wednesday morning that he does not think it is an option anymore for the district to do nothing. Closing both schools would go a long way to addressing the district’s financial troubles.

The district proposes using about $2.5 million in reserve and other funds to bridge a gap between expected spending existing revenue. It would also incrase the property tax levy $208,000 in the planned 2018-19 budget. Closing both schools would almost entirely close that gap, Hoose said.

Closing Parker would save $800,000 a year in staff costs; closing Virgil would save $600,000. Total savings of closing just one, depending on how the remaining schools are configured, could top $1 million a year. Parker needs about $5.1 million in repairs over the next five years; Virgil needs about $1.2 million in repairs.

The idea has some merit, said Krissy Gambitta, a parent of three at Parker Elementary School, who said grade-center groupings could improve learning.

“If you have all the elementary specialists now all in one building instead of spread out amongst four different schools, that at least feels like it has some educational benefit to the children,” Gambitta said. “Whereas just closing one school, that’s a financial decision.”

The district undertook a yearlong facilities study with the consultant Castallo & Silky, which recommended closing either Parker or Virgil elementary schools.

At Tuesday’s work session, district officials suggested that if both schools are closed, grade centers would be created this way:

• Barry Elementary would house kindergarten through second grade.

• Smith Elementary would house grades three and four.

• Randall Elementary would house grades five and six The board now expects to delay a vote on the matter until May from April, Hoose said. School board elections are May 15; the next regular meeting is May 8.

Hoose expects opposition to the idea. At a board meeting in February, members of the district’s advisory panel and residents urged the district to consider other cost-saving measures and revenue-generating activities.

“Any time you’re dealing with something of this magnitude and wrapped in this much emotion, you’re going to have people against any proposal,” Hoose said.

Fourth-grader Garrick Ott enjoys indoor recess Wednesday at the Virgil Elementary School.

Board members like Christine Gregory are conflicted, too “I don’t know that closing one will get us where we need to be financially,” she said. However, she also wants to maintain relationships students have with teachers and worries that changing schools every two years would disrupt that.

Arguments on the flip side, however note that students of a cohort are introduced at an earlier age and kept together.

Close one school or two, the goal remains the same, Hoose said: to keep staff reductions through attrition only and to keep class sizes below 24.

If class sizes rise above 18, it would be contrary to a recommendation from the Center for Public Education, which suggests a class size of no more than 18 students at the early levels for the greatest academic achievement.

Spreading more students out over three schools, Hoose noted, will reduce the disparity in class size that currently exists, where some schools may see a class size of 14 while another has 24.

He also said it will even out socioeconomic disparities between wealthier and lowerincome neighborhoods, which Gambitta also noted.

“It takes out the element of, ‘Oh, you go to the poor school,’” she said.