Board votes 5-2 to shutter elementary school next year

Clarksville Elementary School students will not be returning to the same classrooms next year.

The Bethlehem Central School District Board of Education voted 5-2 tonight to close the school amidst low enrollment and a financial crisis. Board President James Dering and board member Lynne Lenhardt dissented, voting instead to form a district facilities committee to more thoroughly study all district facilities.

The decision came after a long discussion, the first held publicly amongst the board members. There was some disagreement as to whether the district had collected sufficient data to make a decision, which spurred the split vote.

People, whether they're for or against closing Clarksville, they want a quick decision, said Dering. "While that might be beneficial for people from an emotional standpoint, I think we need to look at this from a longterm, systemic standpoint."

Board member Michael Cooper, however, said the combination of dropping enrollment and a economic recession have conspired to create a crisis that can ill be ignored. He said the district is on a cliff, being faced down by a hungry lion.

"We're got to take action, and I have every faith in the research we've done so far," he said. "You've got to make the choice of whether to jump or to let the lion eat you, and this is a case where I think we have to jump."

The district internally created a feasibility study earlier this year that lays out enrollment projections, cost savings estimates and other statistics. Later in the evening, the board approved acquiring a broker to investigate selling the district offices in Delmar, another possibility raised in the report.

The district offices were assessed at $670,000 in 2009.

The topic of the district's facilities has been under discussion for months now, since a fiscal "think tank" raised the topic of closing a school and/or the district offices. The discourse has ramped up in intensity in recent weeks as the selection process narrowed on Clarksville.

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