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Restructuring Updates

What has happened so far; what is the next step?
The 15-member Citizens Advisory Restructuring Committee will host a Community Forum in the Johnstown High School Lecture Hall at 7 p.m. on Thursday, February 26, to receive feedback from residents on the issue of closing one of the District's six school buildings.

While committee members appear to be moving toward a recommendation of an elementary building closure, no decision has yet been reached as to which building they will suggest to the Board of Education. 

At meetings held on December 11, January 8 and February 12, the committee reviewed current enrollment figures, future enrollment projections based on available birth data, building size and energy costs, elementary classroom capacity, and capital project expenditures since 1996, while discussing the pros and cons of the following ideas:

1.            Maintaining the current structure of four K-6 neighborhood schools, Knox Junior High and Johnstown High School without changes.

2.            Closing one as yet to be determined elementary school building and moving those students to the remaining three elementary schools.

3.            Closing Knox Junior High School, moving junior high students to Warren Street and moving Warren Street Elementary students to the remaining three elementary schools.

4.            Closing Knox and moving the junior high to Warren Street, followed by restructuring of the remaining three elementary schools so that one building is an early childhood center for pre-k through first grade, while another building serves students in second and third grades; and the third building serves students in grades four through six.

5.            Creating complexes at Glebe/Knox and Warren/JHS and closing the remaining buildings.

6.            Moving the district’s sixth graders to Knox Junior High School and closing one, or possibly even two, of the elementary buildings.

7.           Moving Jansen students to other buildings and converting that building to a central administration, storage and transportation center, eliminating the need for the district to continue leasing transportation facilities elsewhere and allowing the gym and Briggs Street athletic fields to remain in use by the district.

Facilitator Robert Munn asked committee members to first address the top priority question: does the committee wish to pursue a recommendation to the Board of Education to close one of the district’s buildings? He noted that a restructuring survey mailed to 3,951 residents in 2004 garnered only 356 responses, with 220 of those being in favor of keeping the existing format.

Citing the bleak status of the economy and enrollment projections that suggest declining numbers will continue, the committee has generally agreed that maintaining the current school structure (option 1 above) no longer seems feasible. Committee members have also indicated they are not interested in pursuing option 4 above, based on logistical impracticalities for families with children in multiple grade levels.

During the January 8 meeting, committee members were split into three equal groups and asked to assess the pros and cons of all remaining options and to rank them on a scale of one to five, with one being the most palatable option and five being the least desirable. The informal and non-binding results of that exercise can be seen by clicking here.

Studying the current class sizes and the square footage of each building, committee members determined that the district has space for 1,725 students at the elementary level (based on a maximum of 25 students per room), but that only 732 of those spaces are presently occupied. The panel concluded that, should the District close one of the smaller elementary buildings (Glebe, Jansen or Pleasant), it would still be able to accommodate an additional 300-350 elementary students should there be an unexpected influx of new arrivals due to future consolidation or population growth.

In addition to building size and energy costs, other considerations have come into play for many of the buildings. The elementary schools are not currently equipped with amenities that would be necessary if the junior high were relocated (lockers, auditoriums, science labs, or facilities for home and careers or industrial arts classrooms). Knox Junior High is a long-standing sentimental landmark in the community. Locker rooms located within the Knox building are necessary to many athletic and band functions on Knox Field. The Jansen Avenue site includes the Briggs Street athletic fields, continued use of which could be subject to an old reverter clause should the district dispose of the property. Warren Street houses the district’s recently upgraded NOC (network operations center) and also generates revenue in the area of $90,000 per year for the district through the lease of some classroom space to HFM BOCES.

What happens to students and staff if an elementary building is closed?
If the committee makes a final recommendation to the Board of Education to close an elementary building, and the Board elects to adopt the recommendation, what will happen to the students and staff?

The current building structure would remain in place for the balance of the 2008-09 school year. Attendance boundaries, bus transportation routes and other relevant considerations would be studied by administrators, who would develop a plan to transfer students from the closed building to classrooms in the remaining elementary buildings, commencing with the 2009-10 school year. The plan would take into account the need to keep families with students in multiple elementary grade levels in the same school, while striving to establish comparably sized elementary grade-level classrooms throughout the district.

Many staff positions would be eliminated through attrition. If further reductions in workforce remained necessary, positions would be abolished and the persons with the least seniority in those positions district-wide would be released.

What happens to the building?
Just as no decision has yet been made on which building to recommend for closure, there has been no decision reached as to what would happen to any building after it was closed. If the Board of Education adopts a resolution to close a building, the district will carefully review several possible options, including attempting to sell the building for fair market value; leasing the building to other entities; or “mothballing” the building for future use. Although one scenario proposed by a restructuring committee member called for the district to consider relocating its administrative offices and repurposing a building as a bus garage, there are no such plans in place.

Where are we in the process?

District residents are invited to attend a Community Forum scheduled for 7 p.m. on Thursday, February 26, in the Johnstown High School Lecture Hall to share their thoughts and concerns. The advisory committee members will then meet at 6 p.m. on Monday, March 2 in the JHS cafeteria and at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 5, in the Warren Street Library, to begin writing an impact statement for consideration by the Board of Education.

To see a PDF version of a PowerPoint presentation previously presented, click here.

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