Concerns about B’dale school aired at budget hearing

St. Armand town board member Karl Law speaks at the Saranac Lake Central School District budget hearing on Wednesday. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Marbone)

SARANAC LAKE — The Saranac Lake Central School District Board of Education held a public hearing Wednesday on the $37.3 million budget it adopted last month, which taxpayers will get to vote on May 21. But the main topic of public conversation was about the board’s recent discussion over a consulting group’s recommendation that the district consider closing Bloomingdale Elementary School in a few years.

Several town board members from St. Armand, where the hamlet of Bloomingdale lies, showed up on Wednesday to ask questions, urge the board to not consider closing the school and question the interpretation of enrollment data that led to this being a potential conversation.

But school officials said they’re not even having a real discussion about Bloomingdale Elementary now, and that with their building study not being complete yet — and any decision taking months to years of discussion and debate — its’ too soon to know when that will happen.

But Bloomingdale leaders are concerned even by a discussion of a potential discussion to close the school.

St. Armand town Supervisor Davina Thurston said people move to Bloomingdale for its school. She personally moved to town 32 years ago when her first son was 1 year old, so he could go to Bloomingdale Elementary School. The town is embarking on a housing initiative and wants a school for the people they hope to attract to town.

St. Armand town Supervisor Davina Thurston speaks at the Saranac Lake Central School District budget hearing on Wednesday. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Marbone)

“They’re doing what I would expect the community to do, they’re just early about it,” SLCSD Superintendent Diane Fox said.

The study

Last year, the district commissioned a building enrollment feasibility study from the educational consulting firm Alliance Education Associates.

SLCSD board President Mark Farmer said the board commissioned the study because they see declining enrollment and want more data to make decisions in the future based on facts.

The first portion of this study — focused on SLCSD’s two elementary schools — was recently finished and released.

The consultants said that the district could reconfigure in the 2027-28 school year to close Bloomingdale Elementary and move the students going there to Petrova Elementary to save on costs. At that time, Petrova’s enrollment is projected to be small enough to accommodate the additional students.

Fox said she has her personal opinion of what should be done and that board members have their own opinions, too. This decision would be the board’s, after all. But they haven’t even had a real discussion about it.

Farmer said any real discussion of this is probably years ahead. Any decision would not be sudden, he said.

“As the board president, I’m not going to allow anything to happen that’s not in the public domain and that is not well-vetted,” Farmer said.

He said it would certainly not be done behind closed doors, pointing out that the board has been very open, bringing the results of the first part of the study to local government boards as soon as they got it.

Fox took issue with the Enterprise headline on the board’s talk — “Board mulls future of Saranac Lake schools: Amid housing crunch, childcare shortage and declining school enrollment, SLCSD board discusses future of Bloomingdale Elementary” — saying it led to more fear than it should have.

“All this was was a recommendation from people who are doing a study. There is no conversation right now about Bloomingdale,” Fox said.

Fox was asked if she personally would want to close Bloomingdale Elementary.

“To be honest, yes,” she said. “I believe the numbers speak for themselves.”

She believes it would be fiscally responsible and added that having all elementary teachers in one space allows them to collaborate better. But she has no idea of the numbers projected in the study will be accurate. Ultimately, it is the board’s decision, she said, not hers.

Fox said she understands that the school is important to the Bloomingdale community.

Farmer said any decision would take Bloomingdale’s economy and community into account, as a committee would be set up and include stakeholders from the hamlet.

Concerns of closure

St. Armand town board member Karl Law, whose wife Rebecca is running for the school board, said Bloomingdale taxpayers and parents are coming up to him, saying they are concerned. He’s concerned by the idea of consolidating, too.

Karl said people in Bloomingdale tell him the district has been talking about closing Bloomingdale Elementary for years.

Thurston said there is a general sentiment and belief that Bloomingdale Elementary has been looked at to close soon for years. She feels the district is not being fully open with its intentions.

While she hears from school officials that they haven’t discussed closing Bloomingdale, she said former employees of the school tell her they’ve been expecting the district to close it for years.

Fox said Thurston isn’t wrong — there are whispers and opinions around — but a school closure has a long process and discussion that isn’t close to really happening.

Thurston clarified she is not saying school officials are lying, just that she’s skeptical of the interpretation of the data the consultants are working on, as well as the enrollment projections they are making.

“If truly, it makes financial sense to close Bloomingdale, then I will agree to it,” she said.

Thurston said she wants to see the data herself and has filed a Freedom of Information Law request with the district for this information.

Karl asked about how and why Alliance Education Associates was chosen for the study. Fox said the group recently did a study for BOCES, so she knew of it, adding that they are experts in these types of studies. Karl questioned if they are qualified for this, because the company website describes it as a “newly formed” firm.

Thurston asked why Fox has said that Petrova Elementary is “bursting at the seams” with students, but that a wing of Bloomingdale Elementary was closed because there were not enough students. She said it doesn’t make sense how both can be true and suggested that some Petrova students could go to Bloomingdale to use that building to its full potential. She said there’s people who live closer to that school than Petrova who go to Petrova instead.

Thurston said the town would do what is required to ensure Bloomingdale stays in use. She said the smaller classes at Bloomingdale provide less stimulation for kids who do better with that environment. With SLCSD being the largest geographical district in the state, she said it is also a time saver on bus rides for kids.

Farmer said he had two kids caught up in the Lake Clear School closure, so he understands people’s fears. The district closed and sold its Lake Colby Elementary School and Lake Clear School in 2011 and 2009, respectively.

Adults took the closures harder than kids, he felt, adding that “kids are more adaptable than adults.” Still, he added, a closure of the school would definitely have an impact on kids and he would want to think about that and take it into account.

Farmer said they can’t do much more until they get the second part of the study at the end of June. After the study is finished, he said they’ll do an analysis. What they will do with these results is “anyone’s guess” he said.

There are other suggestions for how to adapt to declining enrollment, too, he said, ones that aren’t being discussed by the public because they aren’t as contentious.

The district budget on May 21 is below the state-imposed tax cap and uses around two-fifths of the district’s healthy reserves to make up for the loss of pandemic-era state and federal aid.

The SLCSD school board election, proposition and budget vote will take place from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the district offices near the auditorium at door No. 5 of the high school at 79 Canaras Ave.


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