June 8, 2023

(Picture by Dion Ogust)

The Onteora Central College District’s trustees final week voted 6-1 to shut Phoenicia Elementary College on the finish of the 2023-24 college yr, in addition to approving an eventual central campus in Boiceville that might home all college students in grades k-12 by 2028. The choice comes within the wake of a fast decline in pupil inhabitants of round 1000 college students over the previous decade. Many count on the eventual closure of Woodstock Elementary College as properly. 

Regardless of near-unanimous approval by the college board, the selections — and their inclusion on the Might 2 agenda simply hours earlier than the assembly — have confirmed controversial in the neighborhood, with some criticizing trustees for an absence of transparency. 

Three incumbents who voted in favor of each the closure and central campus, board president Emily Sherry, and trustees David Wallis and Kristy Taylor, are working for reelection. A neighborhood advocacy group known as Onteora Mother and father Engaged Now (OPEN) has requested native residents to vote for 2 official challengers, Clark Goodrich and Emily Mitchell-Marell, together with Caroline Jerome as a write-in. 

Every of the 5 candidates on the poll had been requested to share their ideas in regards to the closure of Phoenicia Elementary College and the idea of the central campus idea. They seem in the identical order as they are going to on the poll on Tuesday, Might 16. Though she is just not on the poll, we included the views of OPEN’s write-in candidate final.

Emily Sherry

Emily Sherry (incumbent, board president)

What are your ideas on the Phoenicia Elementary closure?

I’m very unhappy that Phoenicia will shut. It was an extremely tough choice. Nonetheless, I’m grateful that the educators that form so many lives at Phoenicia will observe the kids as we transition to the Bennett College. Training is outlined and offered by educators, not by a constructing — even one which has held a lot love. We’re lucky to have so many unbelievable educators. The decline in enrollment that precipitated the closure is heartbreaking. Onteora has misplaced over 1000 college students since 2005, with no finish to the declining enrollment in sight.

What in regards to the potential for closing Woodstock Elementary and the doable creation of a central academic hub?

I believe it’s vital that individuals perceive two issues, that this may’t occur with out voter approval and {that a} central campus is envisioned to create a safer, equitable, studying setting for generations to come back. When Onteora was created in 1952, it was in a single constructing, with the identical variety of college students that we now have at present, 1000. The scholars had been introduced collectively from schoolhouses everywhere in the space beneath one roof to supply every little one with equitable schooling and alternative. This chance isn’t nearly cash, it’s about addressing generational divides of fairness in our neighborhood which has at all times been cut up alongside socioeconomic traces. Whenever you look past that, there isn’t a denying that the district can not maintain the mannequin we now have now. Our buses journey 5000 miles a day, pulling youngsters all the best way from West Hurley to Phoenicia to be able to attempt to hold the faculties balanced, as we’re required to do by legislation. One Onteora imagines a district that addresses the myriad of learners we now have with academic fairness and alternative.

What, if something, would make you modify your thoughts on the topic?

As a board, we in the end converse as one voice. Though every of us have particular person votes, we’re taught by the NYS College Board Affiliation that we’re obligated to help the selections of the entire. At this level, our board has voted, and it’s now our function to help the implementation of the choice. It’s unimaginable to know what the longer term will carry. I by no means imagined a pandemic in my lifetime. Because the guardian of 4 youngsters, a enterprise proprietor and the daughter of a Marine, I do know that one should at all times be keen to improvise and adapt.

David Wallis

David Wallis (incumbent)

What are your ideas on the Phoenicia Elementary closure?

Who enjoys closing a college? Not me. It was an emotional and painful choice. Nevertheless it was additionally the clear and accountable choice to make for the whole neighborhood, together with college students, employees and taxpayers. The district has lower than half the scholars it did at its peak, and Phoenicia wanted a significant funding to modernize. Proper now, nearly all of college students attending that faculty — youngsters from Olive for example — are rolling proper previous Bennett. That is unnecessary. As soon as Bennett turns right into a k-5 college beginning in 2024-5, it might probably soak up all of Phoenicia’s college students with minimal funding.

What in regards to the potential for the doable creation of a central academic hub?

I encourage people to really learn the board’s decision to work towards a central campus: https://go.boarddocs.com/ny/onteora/Board.nsf/vpublic?open. There are nonetheless steps to take earlier than a central campus occurs, together with the event of an architectural and monetary plan, an environmental overview and voter authorization.

A dialog for our city boards to have — and for the critics of college consolidation to mull — is the dearth of inexpensive housing that makes it tough for public faculties to retain and entice college students. Check out Zillow. Within the Woodstock zip code, for example (which is simply partly in Onteora’s district) there are simply 19 long-term rental choices (https://www.zillow.com/properties/12498_rb/). Common price: $8005 monthly. Subsequent, go to AirbnB and see the numerous choices out there for vacationers. Many households, sadly, can not afford to stay in our district partly as a result of our native elected leaders have failed us by encouraging AirBnBs.

What, if something, would make you modify your thoughts on the topic?

As a board, it’s now our duty to help the administration as they plan for a central campus. I’m proud to be a part of a board that lastly took motion.

Clark Goodrich

What are your ideas on the Phoenicia Elementary closure?

First, let me say closing each Phoenicia and Woodstock will in all probability improve taxes, not decrease them.

The Onteora College Board [OSB] rushed the vote into the agenda in lower than 24 hours to shut Phoenicia and Woodstock. This isn’t the best way it must be performed. The OSB simply misplaced the belief of the general public. It will likely be tough to realize that belief again. There was no transparency why they made this tough choice that impacts all of the Onteora communities and companies. 

I agree with lone OSB dissenter Sarah H Hemingway Lynch that there had been no agency capital expense price estimate for closing each Phoenicia and Woodstock and developing ten new lecture rooms and a fitness center on the central location at Bennett Elementary. The general public has been pleading with the OSB for weeks for an estimate of restructuring capital expense price earlier than voting. Is it $20 million? Is it $70 million? OSB won’t say.

Time on Bus [TOB] was rated quantity 4 concern within the Dr Kevin Baughman report survey. Little or no was mentioned within the report about TOB. Be aware bus miles doesn’t equate to TOB. Closing Woodstock College will add three hours of TOB each week for college students that will likely be bused handed the Woodstock College to the centralized campus at Bennett.

I’m in opposition to spending tens of hundreds of thousands of {dollars} on centralized campus capital enhancements that can considerably improve Woodstock college students’ TOB, when Woodstock Elementary doesn’t have an enrollment drawback.

What in regards to the potential for closing Woodstock Elementary and the doable creation of a central academic hub?

Let’s begin with [that] Onteora schoolteachers are a number of the greatest and might train wherever. We’re not going to lose our academics. There have been many research on the benefits and downsides of a big centralized elementary college versus a smaller decentralized neighborhood college. 

I’m not an professional on this. Superintendent Victoria McLaren has said some great benefits of a centralized district. But for some motive, I’m attempting to higher perceive myself, the general public on this college district appears to adamantly desire decentralized neighborhood elementary faculties that present a extra private, much less intimidating schooling setting. It’s no surprise why our communities love Phoenicia and Woodstock Elementary tucked into the attractive Catskill Mountains on a sunny fall day. 

What, if something, would make you modify your thoughts on the topic?

If some great benefits of a centralized campus may be higher communicated transparently by the superintendent with examples, then there’s a likelihood the communities might purchase into it. If elected to the Onteora College Board, I must put the time in to learn, pay attention, and pay attention some extra.  

Emily Mitchell-Marell

Emily Mitchell-Marell

What are your ideas on the Phoenicia Elementary closure?

We’re devastated about Phoenicia Elementary closing subsequent yr in addition to Woodstock a number of years later.

I really feel strongly these small neighborhood primarily based faculties are the most suitable choice for our kids. We’ve got them now, they usually work very properly and are adored by college students and fogeys. Why repair what isn’t’t damaged? 

They really feel beloved and particular there, the dimensions is manageable for his or her younger minds, the academics, directors and employees are glorious, and the neighborhood occasions carry us all collectively. This stuff come collectively to type the pillars of our cities. To shut them can be deeply hurtful and disruptive to our communities and kids.

What in regards to the potential for closing Woodstock Elementary and the doable creation of a central academic hub?

A central hub is pricey, many renovations are concerned to make that work, and general it’s completely pointless. We will simply put k-5 in each our elementary faculties.

College students will have to be bused from their very own cities to this new college. We’ve got an awesome factor occurring now at our beloved major faculties — Woodstock and Phoenicia. Why are we altering this? The monetary distinction is negligible if in any respect in the long run with all of the change and long-term development.

Rural cities want faculties. In any other case each cities, however particularly Woodstock, will formally simply be a vacationer city with Airbnbs, smoke retailers and tie-dye tee shirts. Our faculties are what make us a legit place to stay, the place individuals need to transfer to begin and lift households. 

Have you ever seen the West Hurley College? It’s rotting in a neighborhood. Do we wish two extra empty elementary faculties in our cities? How miserable. This makes simply completely no sense.

I see completely no motive to shut these faculties. If that you must shut one thing, shut Bennett, which can solely have two grades quickly and doesn’t have the deep ties and roots of our elementary faculties. This may nonetheless save them cash if that’s actually what they’re after.

The board handed these closings with no regard for public outcry, including it to the agenda the day of the assembly. They haven’t supplied actual numbers of development prices, and we actually don’t perceive why they suppose this selection is best. Mother and father, academics, college students, neighborhood members — all of us are begging and pleading for them to maintain Woodstock and Phoenicia open, and we don’t perceive why they won’t take heed to us. They appear to need to forge forward with this plan no matter motive or common opinion.

Kristy Taylor

Kristy Taylor (incumbent)

What are your ideas on the Phoenicia Elementary closure?

It’s unhappy when any college has to shut. I don’t relish having to shut Phoenicia and doubtlessly Woodstock. 

What in regards to the potential for closing Woodstock Elementary and the doable creation of a central academic hub?

My oldest little one was impacted by the final reconfiguration, that is named the Princeton plan. My oldest attended Bennett for kindergarten and first grade. She was then moved to Woodstock for second and third grade, then returned to Bennett for fourth by way of sixth grade. On the time of that board’s choice, I spoke at public [hearings] a number of instances. I requested the board a few central campus again then. I requested the place they noticed the district in 5 years, in ten years. They gave no response. 

I’m not opposed to alter. I do need change with a goal. Change that can profit everybody, not a choose few. 

I’m fed up with the district saying each few years that there’s an issue however then not doing something about it. I’m bored with this district simply kicking the can down the street. 

The Princeton plan was a flowery shell sport. It gave the phantasm of doing one thing when in essence it completed nothing. One of many choices on the desk with the Princeton plan was a central campus. They selected to serve self-interests as an alternative of the kids. The Princeton plan unduly shuffled all the kids round, broke up buddy teams, and destroyed the forgotten communities of Onteora. 

Our district is made up of many cities. Not simply Woodstock and Phoenicia. The one motive for the Princeton plan was to maintain all of the buildings open. It benefited solely a choose few. That call was not made in the most effective curiosity of all the district. I care about what’s greatest for the kids of all the district. I’m not preventing for a constructing, I’m preventing for all our kids. I imagine {that a} central campus will service all our kids and never depart anybody behind. 

We’ve got phenomenal academics and ancillary employees in our district. I’ve all the religion on the earth that they’ll movement with these modifications and assist our kids thrive. We’ve got a chance right here to do nice issues. I would like one Onteora, not a number of cities preventing in opposition to one another. Everybody ought to have a seat on the desk. 

Our kids observe after our instance. It’s as much as us to point out our kids that it is a constructive transfer that can profit everybody, particularly our most at-risk residents. We’ve got been in a position to accomplish one thing that each different board wouldn’t do. Our sixth grade is just not going to be within the junior excessive, one thing our center college employees has needed for a very long time. Our district is shifting in a constructive course. We have to help our kids to allow them to transfer ahead with confidence. 

What, if something, would make you modify your thoughts on the topic?

With all of the research and proof we now have accrued, I can’t consider any motive for me to alter my thoughts about our decision to shut Phoenicia. The proof is just too overwhelming. Our district has been ignoring the details for 20 years. Funds aren’t’t the first think about my views. Security, continuity, academic fairness, and equality are my major issues. It simply occurs {that a} central campus additionally continues to maintain us financially solvent.

Caroline Jerome (write-in candidate)

What are your ideas on the Phoenicia Elementary closure?

I agree with the board that our present system wants adjustment. It’s not sustainable. Nonetheless, three issues hassle me in regards to the imminent closing of Phoenicia Elementary. 

First, with no clear or detailed plan, there may be no price evaluation. No design. No detailed description. My ten-year-old daughter instantly began asking questions like “How will recess work?” Or “How will lunchtime work?” I’ve different gaping questions like how will services be organized? How will the campus enhance general? How will youngsters and youths be each built-in and separated? How a lot will it price?

Secondly, the timing of the closure post-Covid. The 2020-21 pandemic modified our world endlessly. The alternatives for distant or hybrid work supply households choices that merely didn’t exist earlier than. Positioned centrally, two hours from New York Metropolis, an hour from Albany, and three hours from Boston, this space has an unimaginable historical past, an unimaginable neighborhood. and an unimaginable library. All these attributes make it an distinctive place to decide on to stay.

Now, 1 not suggesting that there’s going to be a inhabitants explosion on this space. I notice numbers throughout the board within the U.S. present a decline within the beginning fee. Nonetheless, I’m suggesting that this space can develop and be on the forefront of what profitable, close-knit communities of the longer term appear like. 

I wish to see extra knowledge surrounding motion to our particular post-Covid space. That can take a second, so I really feel it’s the mistaken time to hurry to a vote.

Lastly, the timing of the vote. No matter belief I’ll have had within the college board crumbled after they put such an vital merchandise into the agenda the afternoon of the vote and refused to postpone that vote till after the upcoming election. That evening I spoke with my husband, and we agreed that I ought to take part on this dialog.

What in regards to the potential for closing Woodstock Elementary and the doable creation of a central academic hub?

I believe it might be a mistake for the way forward for our neighborhood as a result of I don’t buy-in to the angle that this space is dying a sluggish loss of life. That’s the reason I labored so arduous with the board and the general public to provide you with a superb resolution for extra sturdy library providers. I really like that this neighborhood is so engaged, and is keen to behave on what they suppose is true. To achieve the most effective resolution, I imagine dialog, connection, and compromise are all crucial

That mentioned, I’m skeptical of the mega-campus. Stripping the distinct communities that lay in these hills and valleys of their faculties must be very fastidiously thought of and varied choices totally explored earlier than extremely vital choices are made.

What, if something, would make you modify your thoughts on the topic?

I simply don’t know sufficient on the topic but to reply this query intelligently. I’ll say that personally, I’m at all times prepared for a pivot. What I can say fairly confidently is that the vote from final week is just not the precise resolution. Why? As a result of a superb portion of the neighborhood is vehemently in opposition to it. That alone, must be telling the board one thing.

The put up Candidates for the Might 16 Onteora college board election air their views  first appeared on Hudson Valley One.