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Clarksville Elementary on the block

Facilities decision scheduled for Wednesday vocal parties on both sides of issue

There are two schools of thought in the Bethlehem Central School District when it comes to the possible closure of an elementary school. For some, it is as black-and-white as a balance sheet. To others, it is a complex and sometimes emotional issue.

For the past few weeks, these viewpoints have been colliding, and the BC Board of Education is expected on March 30 to render a decision on whether to close an elementary school.

Most likely to face the chopping block is Clarksville Elementary School, though the board is also considering shuttering Elsmere. These two have the lowest enrollments in the district, at 203 and 282 students this year, respectively.

BC is working to close a $4 million budget gap this year, which already takes into account spending down the fund reserve by $2.5 million and raising the tax levy by 2 percent. Administrators peg the savings of closing a school at $800,000 to $900,000 in the year it's closed, meaning a closure in the 2011-12 school year would be a great help to the budget problem, but not a full solution.

The budget process is still ongoing, but it's expected 37 teacher positions will be cut, in addition to other staffing reductions. The school board is slated to adopt a budget on April 6.

Emotions running high

For many, the issue of a Clarksville closure goes well beyond dollars and cents. As opponents of the closure note, the school has been in operation since 1948. Since then, some residents say, it has become a lynchpin to that community, serving as a symbol, meeting space and source of pride.

I don't think they can really take into account or consider the true impact of the estimated savings...without looking at the current value of Clarksville to its current students and community," said Jim Cable, a parent of a Clarksville student and outspoken advocate for keeping the school open.

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