Posted at: 10/10/2013 12:03 AM
By: Dan Levy
EAST GREENBUSH - In the face of declining enrollment and mounting fiscal challenges, the East Greenbush School District Board of Education surprised many people in the community Wednesday night by voting to keep the Citizen Genet, and all other elementary schools in the district, open.
For the last two years, the district has been looking at various cost-cutting strategies, several of which included shutting down one of five elementary schools, with the leading candidate for closure being Citizen Genet.
More than 300 people filled the school's auditorium Wednesday night, determined to make sure Citizen Genet remained open, and the school board listened, voting unanimously (9-0) to keep all schools open.
"I definitely think some people in the community thought the board had already decided that Genet was the one on the chopping block," said Dr. Shay Harrison, president of the East Greenbush Board of Education. "Until tonight, the board had not made any decision. We need to give it a year to really access if that's going to be a viable economic approach."
"If costs keep escalating in the double digits and we have no more aid from the state or federal government, how long is that sustainable?" School Superintendent Dr. Angela Nagle asks rhetorically. "The local taxpayers ability to pay is very limited. Indeed we may just be kicking the can down the road and out of a financial crisis or necessity may need to close the building."
By avoiding any closures, the 365 school teachers in the district have had a tremendous weight lifted off their shoulders, according to teachers association president Sean Crall.
"I think it's a relief," Crall says, "I think there has been a lot of anxiety because of all the rumors that had been going around and now I think they feel comfortable that their board and the superintendent supports the mission they're trying to accomplish in this district."
Superintendent Nagle says, in the short term, the district intends to create ways of bringing in new revenue, perhaps by renting out additional space for pre-school or BOCES programs.
So does this mean taxes might go up in East Greembush?
"That's a question for Governor Cuomo," Nagle insists, "We're hoping that he will once again deliver a reasonable amount of state aid for public school districts and eliminate the gap adjustment that has hurt districts over the past several years."
Meanwhile, the issue of school shutdowns, she added, is likely to be revisited down the road.