Decision on school closing looms for Onteora school board

The hour of decision approaches for the Onteora School Board, which is facing a choice later this month on which money-saving reconfiguration plan it should put in place for its elementary schools.

Among the three options before the Board is one that would close the Phoenicia School, and cluster elementary grades in Woodstock (K-2) and Bennett (3-6). Another plan, dubbed the "bookends" plan, involves the clustering of elementary grades, but no school closures. And a third plan would close the Phoenicia School, but leave Bennett and Woodstock as K-6 schools.

Clustering grades -- which superintendent Phyllis McGill is an advocate of -- means that some children will have long bus rides, especially from Pine Hill, at the western edge of the district.

The Freeman's Kyle Wind reports in today's paper that Onteora's transportation department is trying to work out a plan so that no child would have to get on a bus before 7am.

Reporter Lisa Childers covered the Board's Feb. 7 meeting for the Woodstock Times. She writes that the date of the expected decision has been delayed a week, to Feb. 28.

Childers writes that most Woodstock parents (like most Bennett parents, apparently) are in favor of closing the Phoenicia School:

Woodstock PTA co-presidents Jill Schwartz and Lorelei Voelker presented data from an unofficial survey the PTA conducted by reaching out to families and staff. Out of 310 surveys distributed, 118 responded, with 83 percent preferring two Kindergarten-through-grade six schools and opting to close Phoenicia. Ten percent preferred a three-school bookend model.

But Shandaken residents are up in arms about the prospect of losing their school -- and not just parents. Alfie Higley, Jr. spoke at the Onteora meeting on behalf of Shandaken's town board:

Alfred Higley, a member of Shandaken town board read a one-page resolution passed by the town board in support of keeping Phoenicia school open. He said that the board, “vehemently opposes any plan that closes the Phoenicia elementary school and robs our residents and their children of convenient localized education opportunities for their younger children, disregards the needs of the local economy and businessmen and residents that assist with, sponsor and pay for school programs…”

A note on that: "Businessmen"? Shandaken has scads of female business owners and entrepreneurs. We're just saying.

Correction, 2/13/2012: An earlier draft of this post implied that only one of the three plans before the Onteora school board would require the closing of the Phoenicia school. Two of the plans call for closing Phoenicia Elementary. Apologies for the error.