Congers School Fate Debate Tonight

Large crowd in blue shirts expected

BY ROBERT KNIGHT
CITY EDITOR
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES

A standing-room-only crowd is expected to attend tonight’s (Thursday, Jan. 8) meeting of the Clarkstown Board of Education, where the future of the shuttered Congers Elementary School will be up for debate.

Civic organizations in Congers have been leafleting and telephoning local residents for the past two weeks to insure a large turnout at the meeting, which is slated for 7 p.m. at the district administrative headquarters in the old Chestnut Grove Elementary School on Old Middletown Road in New City, a block east of Middletown Road and just north of the Palisades Parkway.

They have also been lobbying the school board to move the meeting to another location, which has more parking and a larger meeting room, to accommodate the anticipated crowd, but have reportedly met with no success from school officials.

The Congers Elementary School is the oldest and one of the smallest schools in the sprawling Clarkstown district. It was built in 1923 as Congers High School and converted to an elementary school in the 1960’s, when the “new” Clarkstown High School North was built and opened in New City.

The school board closed the Congers School in 2013 because of a large crack discovered in a wall of the combined auditorium-gymnasium. Students were kept together by bussing them for the 2013-14 school year to the closed St. Augustine’s Catholic School in New City.

Rather than continuing to pay rent ($216,000 annually, plus utilities) to the Catholic school for the space, however, the school board decided for the current school year to split the students and send them to a variety of existing Clarkstown elementary schools throughout the district.

Angered Congers residents have lobbied the school board since the building was closed to repair and re-open the facility, calling it the heart and soul of the Congers hamlet.

Last year the residents successfully lobbied for a public referendum to raise the funds necessary to make the repairs, passing a $6.5 million bond issue by an overwhelming majority. Residents in New City, Germonds, Bardonia, West Nyack and other parts of the district voted against the referendum, but lost decisively by the overwhelming numbers of votes cast in Congers.

Instead of making the needed repairs to Congers, however, the school board has taken no action in more than a year, leading hamlet residents to believe the board’s ultimate goal is to permanently shutter Congers and either rent, sell or demolish their beloved school, or convert it into a new central administration office.

Calling tonight’s board meeting “Critical,” residents have been lobbying for a huge turnout tonight to convince the board to proceed with the original plan to repair the building, and re-open it as quickly as possible.

School officials, on the other hand, have demurred on the school’s future, citing statistics that show a declining enrollment throughout the district, and thus little need for re-opening their smallest and oldest building.

“We spoke loud and clear,” a Congers area flyer asserts, “but it seems that the school board isn’t listening! They want to hear from us on Jan. 8 at a special community input meeting.

“Our work is not done just yet,” the flyer continues. “The fate of the building is still hanging in the balance. Please attend and show your support for Congers School (and) very importantly, please wear a blue shirt or jacket (Congers blue) as a sign of solidarity and support.”

The flyer and the campaign are being spearheaded by Clarkstown Residents for Education; a non-profit community organization that says its mission is “to preserve Clarkstown’s educational system and buildings for the children and residents of Clarkstown, both now and in the future.”

Fearing the school board might charge the location of tonight’s meeting at the last minute and without warning, to thwart the anticipated turnout, the group urges residents to check the district’s website at www.ccsd.edu for the latest information on the session’s location and time.