SARANAC LAKE - Lake Colby school might close after this school year.
The Saranac Lake Central School District has formed a study committee, consisting of all the district's principals and supervisors and a couple school of board members, to look at the impact of closing the school, district Superintendent Gerald Goldman said Friday morning.
There are two kindergarten classes and a universal pre-kindergarten class at Lake Colby, with between 60 and 70 students total, Goldman said.
Teacher Sara Shatraw leads kindergarteners (from left around table) Kailyn Mader, Marley Harmer, Matthew Conger, Dylan Riley, Bella Wissler and Logan Baker in a reading exercise Friday morning at Lake Colby School in Saranac Lake.
(Enterprise photo — Nathan Brown)
Goldman said he expects the district's financial situation to be tough next year. State aid may go down, and incoming Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he wants a property tax cap as well. Also, the stimulus money that school districts throughout the state have been using for the past couple of years will be gone.
"I think we've got to look everywhere we can to get lean," Goldman said. "Lake Colby's an obvious place to look."
If Lake Colby School closed, one possibility is that the kindergarteners would move to Petrova Elementary School and the pre-kindergarteners to Bloomingdale School. Goldman said closing Lake Colby would significantly reduce the amount of time students would spend on busses, as the busses with the Lake Colby students go to Petrova first to drop off students before continuing to Lake Colby.
It would also reduce driving time for the many district employees who work elsewhere but go to Lake Colby to work sometimes. These include the principal (shared with Bloomingdale School), counselors, physical, speech and occupational therapists, psychologists, music, gym, art, remedial reading and special education teachers.
"We can be a lot more efficient about how we deliver these services if we don't have to deliver them there," Goldman said.
There are three classroom teachers, three teaching assistants, one cafeteria worker and one support staff employee at Lake Colby. Goldman said some positions will likely be eliminated, although that hasn't been determined yet.
Goldman said there are a "lot of variables in terms of staff reductions and transportation," but he estimated the closure would save between $150,000 and $200,000 yearly.
"That's not considering the possibility that someone might want to rent the space from us, because it's a nice building," Goldman said. "If we get any revenue from that, the number would go up."
The district closed Lake Clear Elementary School last year, and Goldman said forming a Lake Colby closure study group was one of his goals at the beginning of this year. Goldman said many of the "factors and issues" the district had to consider in closing Lake Clear apply to Lake Colby, too.
"I would say there's been sort of a sense this was coming, probably since we closed Lake Clear," Goldman said. "I had it in the back of my head, if enrollment continued to go the way it went, we'd see some opportunities to gain some additional space at both Bloomingdale and Petrova, and that's in fact what's happened."
Goldman said he would like to keep Lake Colby open "in a perfect world," calling it a "perfect situation for kindergarten kids," but that he didn't think it was sustainable.
"I think the environment's a little different than when we closed Lake Clear," Goldman said. "I think the taxpayers and staff are aware this is something we would have to do."
The state comptroller's office performed an audit of the district about six months ago to determine how much was saved by closing Lake Clear. The results of the audit haven't been released yet, but Goldman said the comptroller said the district saved "five or six times" the $250,000 to $300,000 the district had estimated.
The impact of closing Lake Colby would be less for the students, Goldman said, since most students go there for only one year for kindergarten before moving on to Petrova or Bloomingdale. Also, not all students go to pre-kindergarten, and some who do go to classes offered by private day-care providers.
One of the most famous people who grew up in Saranac Lake, Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau, lived on Trudeau Road and went to kindergarten at Lake Colby School.
Jennifer Clark's two youngest daughters went to Lake Colby School last year - one in kindergarten and one in pre-K - but this year they're at Petrova. It wasn't a surprise for her that officials were considering closing Lake Colby.
"I knew they had been talking about it for years," Clark said; she figured it was coming after Lake Clear School was closed.
"I think it's a great little school," Clark said. "It's really nice for them to start off their school experience in a smaller setting. But we've had a great experience at Petrova, too. ... There's pros and cons to both."
Clark said she is concerned that the district isn't "just doing this for the money." She doesn't want teachers to lose their jobs and wants to keep class sizes small. Her youngest daughter's kindergarten class has 20 children.
"That's, in my opinion, too many for kindergarten," Clark said. "Are they talking about consolidating classes? That's not going to work."
Enterprise Managing Editor Peter Crowley contributed to this report.
Contact Nathan Brown at 891-2600 ext. 26 or nbrown@adirondack