DAVE GYMBURCH Staff writer
After wrangling over costs of three options for relocating Strough Middle School students during a year-long renovation, an advisory committee agreed to disagree Monday rather than recommend one plan to the Board of Education.
The committee will compile educational pros and cons plus cost factors for the three most studied options, without ranking them, and submit a report by Aug. 15 to the board which will make the final decision. In addition to reviewing the three options, the report will also summarize other options that were considered. Students are expected to be moved in the 2013-14 year during the $25.4 million project.
"I don’t envision this committee can come up with one option," Superintendent Jeffrey P. Simons told the advisory group. It began meeting in January, but has had membership changes along with disagreements over whether Strough students’ relocation should affect other schools including potential impacts on Staley Upper Elementary School and six K-4 elementary sites. Strough hosts grades 7 and 8, while grades 5 and 6 are at Staley.
Simons said he did not feel the committee process was a failure but rather "a success" in generating "a lot more detail...than the board could gather itself." Several members had sentiments similar to Staley teacher Trisha Mumpton, who said "it’s time for the report" to the board.
The primary options, which Simons said all have educational disruption trade-offs plus cost variables, include: moving Strough’s students to Staley, leaving 5th graders among the K-4 schools and placing 6th graders at the former Fort Stanwix school; or putting Strough’s 7th graders at Fort Stanwix and 8th graders at the New York State School for the Deaf; or putting Strough students at Staley, with 5th graders at Fort Stanwix and 6th graders at NYSSD.
Simons has said he considers the option involving Staley and the K-4 schools to be the least costly and most viable. However, updated local-share estimates drew objections from some committee members; estimates included $423,445 for the Staley/K-4 plan, $780,635 for the NYSSD/Fort Stanwix plan, and $823,809 for the Staley/NYSSD/Fort Stanwix plan.
Mumpton and Staley parent-teacher group president Tanya Davis questioned why the Staley/K-4 estimate did not include a $350,000-$500,000 expense for portable classrooms that may have to be covered from the Strough construction budget/capital fund depending on state aid rulings. They also noted that increased busing costs of $148,217-$181,000 for the other two options would be largely reimbursed by state aid the following year.
Simons and Director of Business and Finance Christopher Abdoo explained that the portable classroom expense could be spread over several years through the construction/capital fund, while the busing costs would have to be paid at once through the regular district budget before getting reimbursed.
Davis, though, said that "to the average person," it equates to using "a savings account or checking account...still district money." Mumpton remarked, "money is money is money....How much is this actually going to cost?"
Simons replied, "the figures are the figures...based on what we know at this time." Abdoo said paying for an item through the long-term capital fund rather than in the regular district budget, is "a big difference."
For NYSSD, meanwhile, its use would be complicated by state requirements involving lease arrangements and modifying the site, including potentially needing public voter referendum approval to fund an estimated $175,000 in modifications, said Simons.