To the Editor,
I believe that selling the Clarksville Elementary School is short-sighted and a waste of tax payer dollars, especially given the visible growth within our District, the inaccurate nature of enrollment projections, the debt incurred renovating the school in 2008-9 and the District’s recent multi-million budget surpluses. I would prefer the District extend the Sheriff’s lease and sell/give the Sheriff two of the 12.4 acres upon which the school sits for him to build his facility (e.g., at the end of Olive St).
This District is using a “declining enrollment” narrative to justify the sale of Clarksville Elementary School even though they know the enrollment projections are inaccurate and ignore external factors such as current/proposed residential growth. The basic tenet of the Webster 1970 enrollment projection model is that future enrollment must look like past enrollment. Therefore, the model yields inaccurate results when enrollment isn’t stable. The authors of the model warn that it shouldn’t be used to project more than five years out into the future. At the June 7th Board meeting a former State Education Department employee who used these same models to project enrollment trends for the Department indicated that the results were no better than “guesses.”
We still owe almost $2 million in debt service on the school building from a $4 million capital improvement project at Clarksville Elementary School. According to the State Education Department, the “sale” of the building will decrease future state building aid an undetermined amount. It seems to me that we spent a lot of money improving and expanding Clarksville just to sell it at a loss.
This agreement doesn’t give our district ANY option for review of our enrollment situation after the lease ends in three years, before the school property transfers to the Sheriff. As a result, the district will have limited options when elementary school boundaries are re-drawn – which is soon because Slingerlands and Elsmere Elementary Schools are at/near capacity now and “flex zones” in these areas may be implemented.
BCSD residents should know that the District didn’t simply close Clarksville Elementary School in 2010 because of declining enrollment. The school was closed because we built a school we didn’t need (Eagle) based on inaccurate enrollment projection models and to fill a self-created budget gap (a first-ever predetermined tax levy of 2 percent set in August of that year!) for which we didn’t use the (illegal) excess money in our “unrestricted reserve fund” to close.
Currently, most of the suburban school districts are expanding elementary capacity due to suburban growth; growth is happening in our Towns too – look around you. Recently, the Times Union reported that the population in the Town of Bethlehem is rising (5 percent since 2010; a 1.5 percent increase between 2015-2016). BCSD is a high-performing school district that attracts families. We should make sure we have capacity without wasting taxpayer dollars.
Please get involved BCSD taxpayers and don’t let the District waste your tax dollars.