CAMDEN — Annsville Elementary School will be closed effective June 30, and the Camden school district will proceed with plans for the sale or disposal of the building which is at 9374 Main St. in Taberg.
A resolution for those steps, plus relocating the school’s grade K-4 students to Camden Elementary School and its pre-K program to McConnellsville Elementary School, was approved Tuesday night by the Camden Board of Education.
After addressing some parents’ questions Tuesday about student busing changes and the Camden school’s capacity to accommodate the Annsville students, the board voted 5-0 with one abstention to approve the closing. Abstaining was board Vice President Brad Runfola, who cited a conflict of interest but would not elaborate after the meeting. Absent was board member Jesica Prievo.
District officials say the school closing is in reaction to factors including declining student enrollment districtwide; state and federal financial aid that has not been sufficient; increased usage of the district’s fund balance/savings; and local tax cap restrictions by the state. Closing the Annsville school, coupled with some upcoming staff retirements including the school’s principal, will save about $800,000.
Other options if the school remained open would include to “lay off a large number of people,” district interim Superintendent Jeffrey K. Bryant said after the meeting. No layoffs are anticipated at this point, he said. The district will be able to maintain its current levels of programs and services, which was a “number-one” consideration, he added.
When asked about some persons’ comments to the effect that the school board had already made up its mind beforehand to close the school, Bryant said it was not so. A board vote previously had been scheduled for its March 13 meeting, but Bryant pointed out the board “wanted to postpone” until it received more information, adding that the board wanted “every bit of information...before a final decision.”
About 50 people attended Tuesday’s board meeting at Camden High School. Among questions from the audience:
• Jackie Henderson, an Annsville Elementary School parent, objected to lengths of bus rides for students as a result of the closing, and questioned how shorter ride-times could be projected when students will “go to a school farther away.”
Henderson also opposed the pre-K relocation of Annsville students to the McConnellsville school, commenting that they will have to attend a “new school every year” when they move up to the grade K-4 Camden school. She questioned why that was being done instead of redistricting students.
Assistant Superintendent for Business Karl Keil Jr. responded that the district is flexible in the bus routes, and “will see if shorter routes” are available. He observed that current routes to Camden from Annsville for secondary-grade-level students are 50 minutes or less. But Henderson countered that “smaller kids” will be involved in routes resulting from the school closing.
Board President Brandie Collins said busing is “a very big concern for the board,” adding “we share your concern” about the “amount of time” for students on buses. Such arrangements can be subject to adjustments. Board member Tyler Henry commented that busing has a “tendency to be a moving target,” and every year can be different. The school district has the capacity to adjust routes, he added.
• Another Annsville Elementary School parent, Lloyd Seymour, asked about “how many empty rooms” at Camden Elementary School to house the Annsville students, including for “children with special needs.” He wondered whether they would “get the same education...jammed into one building,” and questioned whether they were “going to be left behind...not getting the same education.”
Seymour also asked whether the district might be able to get more funding from the state to keep the Annsville school open. For the New Hartford school district, a special appropriation for an additional $300,000 in state funding was announced last week by state legislators.
Collins responded that materials have been presented which “showed we have room for these students” at the Camden school, adding there would be the “same amount of kids in Camden Elementary School as in 2014.” She added “we do feel there is room” and students will “not be affected.”
Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Louise Rutherford said the Camden school’s services for students with special needs are “exemplary,” and the “space is all there.”
Regarding the New Hartford district’s additional state funding, Bryant said it was a “unique situation” relating to a shopping mall tax assessment reduction that would have a “profound impact” on the district’s tax revenue.