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Elementary closure hearing draws a crowd

Speakers say Clarksville the center of hamlet's community; district faced with $4M budget gap

Over 100 people turned out to the auditorium of Bethlehem Central Middle School last night to let the Board of Education know their thoughts on the prospect of closing an elementary school.

Though administrators splashed five scenarios on the screen (including doing nothing and redistricting all elementary students), it was clear a large portion of the crowd had come with concerns about a closure of Clarksville Elementary, a move administrators say would save the district nearly $900,000 in the year it's shut down.

But for many in the audience living in Clarksville, with children enrolled there or with memories of its classrooms, it was clear a dollar amount could not be put on the value they place in the school.

Karena Collins said she graduated from Clarksville 20 years ago, and it played a definite role in putting her on a path to be a counselor, for which she is pursuing a masters degree.

I believe Clarksville Elementary had a hand in creating in me empathy and a desire to help others, she said. "What I remember most is the feeling of belonging, the warm and loving feeling of being part of something special."

Many speakers said the school is a meeting space and a lynchpin for the entire hamlet.

"The closure of Clarksville would be tantamount to removing the heart of the community," said Susan Dee.

Dee said she'd been working with a group of other concerned citizens and presented the board with an in-depth letter that not only addressed the role of Clarksville in the community, but brought up concerns that a mothballed school could deteriorate and become a blight on the hamlet.

A "Fiscal Think Tank" had last year identified the closure of Clarksville as one possible scenario to help put the district on the path to long-term fiscal stability. State aid to the district has been falling in recent years, and this year that's contributing to a $4 million budget gap.

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