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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 3, 2011

Will Clarksville Elementary School close?

By Saranac Hale Spencer

NEW SCOTLAND — Less than a decade after the Bethlehem Central School District chose to renovate the Clarksville Elementary School rather than close it, the district is again considering closing the rural school, which the town of New Scotland opposes.

At the beginning of this school year, the district created a “fiscal think tank” and charged it with developing solutions to fill the budget gap created by the downturn in the economy in recent years and the cuts in state aid.  Its recommendations to the school board are to be considered during the development of the budget for the coming academic year.  The district is expecting a worst-case scenario budget gap of $5 million.  This year’s budget is $88 million.

According to Bethlehem’s long-range planning report from 2010, the percentage of potential for residential development over the next five years is 83 percent in Clarksville — the highest for the district’s six elementary schools.  Clarksville is also the only elementary school that is projected to maintain its current enrollment next year, while the five other schools are expected to decrease, according to the same report.

At the start of budget discussions in January, Superintendent Michael Tebbano and the school board announced that the district would undertake a “feasibility study” regarding the closure of elementary school in Clarksville.

“The Board of Education announced at its meeting last night that, of the ideas that emerged from the Think Tank's discussions, it has asked me to conduct feasibility studies regarding the possible closure of Clarksville Elementary School and the district offices at 90 Adams Place,” Tebbano wrote in a letter to the community on Jan. 20.

First opening in 1948, the Clarksville school is the only district building in the town of New Scotland, the district’s five other elementary schools, middle school, and high school are all located in the neighboring town of Bethlehem.

“From my perspective, not just as someone with kids in school, but as a resident of New Scotland… I have to say, it’s somewhat discriminatory closing our one school,” Lynn Cable, who has a second-grader at Clarksville Elementary and a child to enter kindergarten next year, said this week.  “We’re not from the town of Bethlehem; we have just the one school,” she said.

The joyful shouts of children on the playground at recess marks the afternoon for Clarksville residents, she said.  “It’s one of the benefits of living here,” Cable said.  “To take that away… and leave it vacant will have a tremendous impact on the community.”

It is unclear what the district would do with the building, which was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.  A report from the think tank asked, “Would the district lease the space, sell the building, or keep it until future growth requires re-opening? (A charter school could find this an ideal property and hurt our budget base.)”

Tebbano could not be reached for comment this week and the district’s spokesman, Matt Leon, stressed that Bethlehem is only exploring the option of closing the school and there will be public meetings and forums through the spring.  The next budget forum will be held on Feb. 7.

Recent history

In 2003, voters in the Bethlehem school district approved a $93 million bond issue to address increasing enrollment by expanding the Clarksville school, completing projects at the middle and high schools, and building a new elementary school.  At the time, the district considered several options to deal with its projected growth — closing Clarksville Elementary was one possibility.  It also considered expanding the school, increasing the number of classrooms from 12 to 18.  The district decided, instead, to split the growth between a slightly expanded Clarksville and a brand new school.

The committee evaluating the options concluded that new construction and some expansion would be best, then-Superintendent Leslie Loomis said, because it was important to the district to keep Clarksville a small neighborhood school.

Building the new Eagle school created the current crisis, New Scotland Supervisor Thomas Dolin said last week of the now declining enrollment in the district.  Eagle Elementary School opened in 2008 and has the third-highest enrollment, at 397 students.  Clarksville has 203 students.

The New Scotland Town Board voted 4-0, with Councilman Richard Reilly abstaining since he has connections to members of the Bethlehem School Board, to support the maintenance of the Clarksville school and authorize Dolin to write a letter to that effect to the Bethlehem School District.

Also considered by the think tank is the idea of moving the sixth grade to elementary schools; selling the district’s stand-alone offices, which is also being studied; synchronizing the middle and high-school bus schedules; privatizing the transportation department; and privatizing the food services program, among other things.

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