In Niskayuna, parents fight to save a school

Posted at: 01/25/2014 12:20 AM
Updated at: 01/25/2014 12:29 AM
By: Steve Flamisch

NISKAYUNA – Closing an elementary school has emerged as the "preferred option" to save more than $415,000 in a district that is facing an estimated $2.6 million deficit, the superintendent of the Niskayuna Central School District said Friday.

While a final decision has not been reached, the Board of Education used Birchwood Elementary School as a model in discussions this week. That led more than 100 parents to pack a PTO meeting Friday night to ask questions and express concerns.

Mike Foley, who has a son in the 2nd grade and a daughter in the 4th grade, said he is worried about the transition they would experience if they were to relocate to another one of the district’s elementary schools.

"We just want to make sure that the district is doing the right thing for the students, the community, and the taxpayers," Foley said. "It's a great community and a great environment here at Birchwood. The kids really enjoy it. The parents are very supportive. The teachers are great."

A simple majority of the seven-member Board of Education is required to close a school. Superintendent Susan Salvaggio, who does not get a vote, said the Board may decide at its next scheduled meeting.

"I think it’s a possibility that they make a decision on Tuesday," Salvaggio said. "If they don't make a decision on Tuesday, we would need a decision made at the first board meeting in February in order to implement this for the fall."

Salvaggio and several board members attended the PTO meeting to answer questions and hear the parents’ concerns. After the meeting, board member Kevin Laurilliard told NewsChannel 13 he and several of his colleagues remained undecided.

Board President Deb Oriola said there are still unanswered questions about classroom capacity and other factors. She noted that the board is "working toward a decision together," with no firm date for a final vote.

Birchwood has closed before. The board shuttered the school in 1977, citing a district-wide drop in enrollment. The non-profit Wildwood School rented the building for 15 years. Birchwood re-opened as a public school in 1992.

Like all schools in the district, Birchwood underwent a series of voter-approved renovations and upgrades several years ago. The building received new classrooms, a new heating system, new floor tiles, and other features.

Several parents at the meeting Friday said they like that Birchwood is a small school with a small enrollment compared to other elementary schools in the district. Parent Kevin McKenna described it as a "tight community" in Niskayuna.

"We just like the fact that we have a community school here," McKenna said. "That's not to say that the other community schools don't have the same value that Birchwood does. I'm sure that they do. But we just like our school."