It takes a village — and we have a village
In 1976, the Guilderland School Board of Education considered the possibility of closing the Altamont Elementary School due to declining enrollment and to avoid an increase in the school tax rate.
In its Oct. 22, 1976 issue, The Enterprise published an article that contained a report presented to the board of education arguing against closing the school. The issues that were important then, remain important today. I quote the report, in part, below:
“The character of the Altamont school in relation to the village is simple and unique. It is simple because of the school’s direct availability to the villagers. It is there now and has been for 100 years. The Altamont school is unique because it is an integral part of the village historically and in the future. By an integral part of the village, we mean it is essential for a meaningful community existence.
“Like the analogy of the single pebble dropped into a pool of water, the effect is of ever-widening significance. The Altamont School affects the village; the village affects the school. The school is a deep-rooted part of the village. It has no problem of identity, as some schools might. It provides a facet of wholeness in an already established village.
“The Altamont School remains a center for village activities… The village offers a vast array of at-hand learning experiences: walking trips to the post office, the Altamont Enterprise, the fire house, the village hall and, until recently, the supermarket. Village residents offer a unique and immediate resource of personal abilities and interests…
“One can say the Altamont school is many things to many people. Now, the effects of removing this very significant institution from Altamont would be far-reaching to the village. It would diminish the concept of the village, physically and emotionally….
“It would alter the character of the village. As years pass, young families would be less attracted to settle here and raise their children in Altamont. Others might move away.
“It could change the economic structure of the village. Property values may diminish. It would mean the village would lose a social, cultural, and recreational center. It would remove a true village community school with its unique educational advantages.
“It would alter the unique ‘mix’ of old and young and, in turn, the diversity and stability which this mixture generates. And finally, it could contribute to the condition of fragmentation rampant in our society. This situation is deplorable for the harm it does to the individual, to the home, and to the community.
“We charge the board to dwell a moment on this last negative aspect of closing the Altamont Elementary School, and to look more closely at the uniqueness of the relationship between the school and the village. It is an historical year, one in which decisions can be nobly sought and determined.
“The ethical decision is still proper and right. There is an element in ignominy in glossing over the closing of Altamont Elementary without deeply considering the positive or negative significance of the decision which you, the board members, will make. We understand and appreciate the ramifications of your problem.
“Declining enrollment will not go away, nor will the lack of money. But there are the other factors that we have tried to bring forth. It is these factors, we desire you, the board members, to address yourselves.”
“True community school”
Declining enrollment may not go away, nor will the lack of money, even though the economy shows signs of a turn-around, and Guilderland did get an increase in state aid this year.
However, a good businessman looks not only on efficiency but considers effectiveness too. There are the other factors beyond the report’s numbers that we ask the board of education to consider.
We are not only talking about spending money on a million-dollar lemonade stand. We are talking about supporting the only true community school in the district. Its attributes do a great deal to make the Guilderland School District successful.
We have learned that, to raise a happy, healthy, and hopeful child, it takes a family, it takes teachers, it takes clergy, it takes business people, it takes community leaders, it takes those who protect our health and safety, it takes all of us.
Yes, it takes a village. And we have a village !
The consultant hired by the school district claims that the elements in his study hold up a mirror to the facts and data. However, he does not discuss much of the community of which the Altamont Elementary School is part and how the two are integrally connected.
Because of this, his mirror presents a dim view of what makes up our community. This summer, let’s address this incomplete view of our Community School and its place in our community.
We offer an open invitation to members of the Guilderland Board of Education to come to Altamont this summer to hold up their mirror to our community so they can see the gem not reflected by the researcher.
Let’s open up our community to the Guilderland School Board, especially new board members who may not know us or appreciate the importance of the Altamont Elementary’s connection to the overall health of our community.
Guilderland School Board members may have missed our community’s presentation on the American farmer, our strawberry social, or our first movie by dusk in our local park this week. But there is ample opportunity to come and see our community in full activity during the months to come.
There will be six concerts, every Tuesday evening; three family movies presented by our local fire department for Altamont families and our schoolchildren, exhibits on the “Treasured Memories” of the historic Altamont Fair, or the unveiling of Arcadia Press’s publication of Images of America: Altamont. Check the village website for details: www.altamontvillage.org
We would be happy to introduce Guilderland School Board members to the families who came to Altamont to live so their children can attend Altamont Elementary School; meet citizens who proudly call the Altamont Elementary school their alma mater; and dialogue with our local business owners who depend upon the school’s families and children for the health of their businesses. They should learn the importance of why the district’s successful community school is educationally desirable.
I also suggest a summer homework assignment that might help inform us about one claim made by their consultant. The Enterprise reported that the school district’s consultant said that there was no evidence to suggest that closing a school has an effect on property values.
Academic research certainly has documented that the quality of the local school system is a crucial determinant for housing in a neighborhood. It would seem intuitive that the closer a property is to a school, the more desirable the property would be to families with children served by schools.
The benefits that are valued by parents relate directly to the school, most apparent in terms of the safety of and time spent by children commuting to school. This increase in desirability could result in increased value of the property relative to similar properties at greater distances to the school.
Look at some of the following studies we have found to support this contention:
— Bogart & Cromell (2000) showed that school redistricting, including some school closures that led to busing of some school children led to disrupting neighborhood schools and which reduced property values by 9.9 percent.
— Colwell & Colwell & Guntennann (1984) showed that school closing will lower property values. The perceived benefits of a neighborhood elementary school do financially affect residential property values.
— A study by Beta Biostatistics, Inc. (2007) showed that there is a significant relationship between a residential property’s proximity to public schools and the property’s value as predicted by sales prices. The further a property is away from the schools, the less value a property might have.
— Kwame, Espey & Huiyan (2007) argue that the impact of school proximity appears to be as significant in terms of property values as school quality is, with close proximity generally making a positive contribution to property values while greater than average distance from schools correlated with significantly lower property values.
— Kwame & Espey (1993) studied the impact of school quality on property values and jfound that the greater distances to assigned K-12 schools has a negative impact on the value of the property.
If you know of other reports that will improve our understanding before any decisions are made, please let us know.
Most recently, the district consultant completed studies for the East Greenbush and Glens Falls school districts. In the end, no schools in these districts were closed, but rather the community and the school district found other solutions that made better and more efficient use of their buildings.
I intend to visit these school districts this summer to discuss how these school districts came to other cost-savings solutions other than closing their schools. I am sure that the superintendents of these districts would be happy to talk to Guilderland board members as well.
It’s a good idea to benchmark the successes these districts had in addressing their problems. We hope, with a stronger understanding of the importance of our current schools, the Guilderland School District will find ways to save money so that Altamont Elementary School, and for that matter, no school in the district, has to be closed.