Toward a more informed citizenry

A group of concerned citizens from all walks of life within the Guilderland School District came together to help inform the Guilderland community of the value of keeping Altamont Elementary School open, to learn about the district plan to consider closing other schools, and to encourage the school district to think of alternative ways in which to save money that does not involve closing any school.

The concerned-citizen group has developed a website: www.saveguilderlandschools.org.  The site was created for the benefit of Guilderland residents to provide information and research on the recent board of education study, which recommends closing schools as the way to close budget gaps.

The website also contains information on how to contact board of education members.  I would encourage everyone to visit the website and reach out to your elected board representatives to weigh in with your opinions on the study recommendations.

I understand that the group plans to invite board of education members to attend the July 29 concert in Altamont’s Orsini Park.   I hope board members will join us.

County Executive Dan McCoy will participate in placing a plaque on the Altamont Free Library building to commemorate its 2014 New York State Preservation League award for renovation of our historic train station.

Board members in attendance are invited to share in the celebration and entertainment and meet the community members and their families who proved so critical in the 10-year-long effort to repurpose the train station as Altamont’s community library.  Most importantly, they can learn firsthand of the importance of the elementary school to our community.  They also can hear of the concerns the proposed closing will have on Altamont’s viability as a community.

In earlier Mayor’s Notes, I provided research-based information about the negative impact closing schools has on neighborhoods, especially closing a community school like Altamont.  Recently, new research has been placed on the Save Guilderland Schools website.

The growing bibliography contains informative and valuable information for the school district as well as for interested citizens on the relationship between property values and proximity to schools.  According to some of the studies, school redistricting, including school closures that led to busing of some schoolchildren, led to disrupting neighborhood schools and reduced property values by almost 10 percent.

Of particular importance to Altamont’s community, studies have inferred a negative outcome when you factor in other considerations, like walkability, which is very important for younger families in making housing choices.  The National Association of Realtors and other business groups claim walking to school has an impact on people’s real-estate choices and has a positive impact on property values.

Additionally, the builders of the large housing tracts in the Altamont Elementary School attendance area (which the study consultant apparently missed) should sit up and take notice about the recent proposal to close Altamont’s school, an important factor in choosing a place to raise a family.  The disappearance of a community school may significantly impact their business.

Other research that is posted shows the importance of maintaining quality schools in relation to the tax base.  People are willing to pay for good schools, which keeps the tax base stable and revenues steady. 

Disrupting school services, especially high performing schools, tends to result in a decline in tax base for the surrounding community, which ironically offsets the objectives in closing the school in the first place.

What we are learning is that the benefits of a neighborhood elementary school do financially affect residential property values.  Researchers argue that, for the neighborhood that has lost its school, property values tend to drop as residents perceive disinvestment in their community.  School consolidation may break parents' valued connections with existing schools and result in higher transportation costs for parents and students.

We are confident that the school district and the board of education will spend some time studying these and other issues around the proposal to close schools.  We are particularly concerned that the report and the planned focus sessions are coming too fast and may not involve enough input by district residents or time for the district to present information about how the closings may affect them.

We encourage the school district to move toward a more informed citizenry.  In earlier Notes, I suggested that the district take time before the focus groups to correct the reported inaccuracies in the report, and do some investigating of the effects school closures would have on students beyond Altamont.

It seems to me that you cannot just close a school and assign all its students to another school.  It is not that simple.  Attendance area lines would have to be adjusted.  Guilderland residents need to know if their child and family will be affected by possible reassignments sooner rather than later.

It appears the focus groups in September will primarily focus on the options presented by the consultant, but, if the proposed closings and reorganization of grade levels do not include information on how it will affect students other than in Altamont, I think it would be a mistake.  If you are interested in applying for the focus groups, you can get an application on the Save Guilderland Schools or the School District’s websites.

Two years ago, the Bethlehem School District closed the Clarksville school.  In my opinion, they decided on the closure, despite their superintendent’s recommendation otherwise, in record time that I think belied informed decision-making.

We hope the Guilderland district does take this tact.  We hope the district takes its time, corrects the inaccuracies in the report, organizes and makes available outcome data about school programs and transportation soon so that input from district residents will be most meaningful in the end.

If you have any questions, or seek more information my thoughts on this issue or about the village of Altamont in general, check out our Village website (AltamontVillage.org) or e-mail me at AltamontMayor@aol.com.

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