Hey Kids, Move Out!

Clarkstown Board wants Congers Elementary students to vacate St. Augustine’s until their school reopens

BY JANIE UHLMEYER

photoNot a voice went unheard the evening of Thursday, March 13 as concerned parents, teachers, and students packed the auditorium of Felix Fiesta Middle School for the meeting of the Clarkstown Central School District Board.

Residents’ main concern of the night was the fate of Congers Elementary students for 2014-2015 school year.

Currently the students attend classes at the former St. Augustine School in New City costing $216,000 plus utilities in rent for the district. Many argue that use of the school is unnecessary and “just a waste of money,” as there is room for the students at both Lakewood and New City Elementary.

On the other side, many argue that the students’ best interest are not served by forcing them to split between the two schools, only to have them moved again for the 2015-2016 school year when repairs are scheduled to be finished at the Congers Elementary Building.

Many parents pleaded with the board of seven arguing that such a drastic change in their school environment would prove to be detrimental to the student’s education, especially IEP students (special education). Ultimately, when all was said and done, the board voted in agreement with the recommendation of the district’s superintendent that the district should not use the St. Augustine building for the 2014-2015 school year.

After the decision was announced many left feeling that the board did not take in consideration the effect that a third relocation of school environment by the 2015-2016 school year would have on the students.

The students had initially been moved from Congers Elementary to St. Augustine’s at the beginning of this school year, after it was discovered Congers Elementary needed repairs. District voters recently approved a $6.5 million bond to repair Congers Elementary.

One parent, Vicki Giannetti who owns Vicki’s Dance Studio in New City, told to the board that she already had $10,000 in pledges to fund upkeep at St. Augustine’s and had more on the way, but elected board members were unpersuaded.

When asked to comment on the decision by the Rockland County Times, School Board President Micheal Aglialoro declined, but Aglialaro was observed giving Clarkstown South student Christian Juantig a piece of his mind in a one-on-one conversation after the meeting.

Juantig had confronted the board with harsh words during the meeting. Afterward he told the Rockland County Times, “I am very upset that the Board voted on the recommendation. We spent $19,000 on a demographic study to help make decisions on issues like this one. If we are making decisions instead of waiting, why did we spend the money?”

Comments

  1. Had the Congers bond not been impulsively and irrationally thrust upon the community, a full demographic study would have taken place before the bond even saw the light of day. It should be mentioned that the 3 Board members who voted “No” to the demographer were Chris Conti, Diane Hoeneveld and Joe Malgieri. That is very telling about what they believe the demographer is going to say. I am not sure why some are clinging to a false hope that the demographer is somehow going to come back with different news than what we already know.

    I contacted Carl T. Thurnau, Director of Facilities for NYSED (New York State Department of Education). I wanted clarification on some issues, specifically available classrooms in CCSD. Here is some of what Mr. Thurnau’s response to me:

    “Honestly, it is rare that we see a district that from our review is so out of proportion when considering available space to student enrollment. Most districts have adjusted their facilities use to fit enrollment due to budget pressures. Operating excess facilities cost significant amounts of money in everything from bussing, utilities, maintenance, staffing, insurance, etc.
    As to your second question, I believe that we are generally as flexible and reasonable as we can be because our primary responsibility is to help districts provide safe and healthy facilities. We try to be helpful. Every once in a while, we find one of these projects that we believe are simply unreasonable. Therefore I would say that appeals are rarely successful, because we try to be reasonable up front. The state spends significant amounts of dollars on school facilities each year….as much as $2B per year not including NYC. But it has to be justified in the first instance, and we believe Clarkstown has significant excess space.

    As I noted to the administration, even when Congers was distributed to just 2 other elementary schools, class sizes still did not exceed 23 students per class. There is room for the current facilities without Congers. I also advised the district that based on the numbers, they could easily close another school as well. That needs to be considered in future Capital Building aid requests to this office.”

    State Aid was denied initially then once again on appeal. Mr. Thurnau wrote above that “appeals are rarely successful.” In my opinion State Aid (like the demographer) should have been researched prior to the bond being motioned for a Vote. We now have no State Aid for the repair of the Congers building and no State Aid to rent St. Augustine’s further.

    Let’s hope the next bond to be put forth is done so in a logical manner because this bond surely wasn’t.