Sophie Finn and Meagher School Proposed Closing or Changes. An Op-Ed Piece by Alderman Hayes Clement and Bill Reynolds.

The case for 2 winning and walkable schools

At a vulnerable moment in Kingston’s history, when several of our most critical public institutions seem to need fixing, it’s curious to find two institutions — that are excelling — slated for the chopping block.

Sophie Finn and Frank L. Meagher elementary schools will shut their doors to children in grades K-5 beginning in the 2012 school year, if the recommendation of the school system’s Master Plan Facilities Committee is adopted by the full school board.

Sophie Finn, on Mary’s Avenue, would be converted, once again, into an alternative high school. Meagher, on Wynkoop Place, would be converted into office space for school district administrators or, more likely, shut down altogether, ending a 100-plus year run as Kingston’s oldest operating elementary school.

The rationale for the closures, of course, is financial.  Faced with declining enrollment and  under-utilization throughout the district’s 11 elementary schools, school administrators are looking to save as much as $680,000 by closing Meagher altogether, not including personnel reductions.

As aldermen on the Kingston Common Council, we know all too well the pressures faced by our counterparts on the school board in searching for ways to curb costs and control taxes. But as aldermen representing the home wards of Sophie Finn and Meagher, we also feel strongly that closing both of these schools to our youngest Kingstonians is unfair – to them and to city tax payers.

Both schools are well-loved by parents, for good reason. Class sizes are small; performance  measures are consistently high, following aggressive and long-term efforts by recent principals to lift test scores; and student bodies are diverse. Even as Title I schools serving a large portion of disadvantaged children, both schools enjoy a high degree of involvement by parents and neighbors.

What’s more, both are walkable for a majority of their students – a concept that some might dismiss as outdated and quaint but that we think plays a critical part in the potential appeal of Kingston neighborhoods to young couples looking to make a home and raise a family.  At a time when the city, the Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Robert Woods Johnston Foundation are investing considerable time and money in a “Complete Streets” program aimed at curbing Kingston’s alarming rates of childhood obesity, the closure of two walkable schools serving almost 450 students seems out of step with bigger public imperatives.

The $680,000 to be saved by closing Meagher represents less than one-half of 1% of the school system’s proposed $145 million annual budget, and once the additional costs of busing newly displaced students is factored in, the savings will be even less. Since the schools are within a half mile of each other and collectively cover a large swath of Midtown, the expanded busing could add considerably to the $7 million-plus we already spend annually on student transportation.

But if closures are the only workable way to make a dent in school spending right now – and we don’t think they are – then the school board at least needs to look, finally, at wielding the budget ax elsewhere.

By the Facilities Committee’s own reckoning, Zena School, in Woodstock, has the lowest enrollment in the system, with only 70% utilization. Situated in a largely rural setting, surrounded by trees, Zena is hardly walkable for anyone, let alone children.

We do not advocate closing any school, but if you’re going to close one, then be fair about it. And fair does not include pitting two high-achieving, walkable schools in Kingston against one another.

Hayes Clement represents Ward 9, home of Sophie Finn School, on the Kingston Common Council. Bill Reynolds, the Council’s Majority Leader, represents Ward 7, home of Meagher School.

 

9 thoughts on “Sophie Finn and Meagher School Proposed Closing or Changes. An Op-Ed Piece by Alderman Hayes Clement and Bill Reynolds.

  1. With George Washington busting at the seams with children from all over the district, the need seems apparent to me for another Montessori school. What a great way to revive one of those schools, and the neighborhood, and the city in general. When educated, upwardly-mobile parents find out that Kingston has free public Montessori education, it suddenly looks like a very attractive place to raise a family.

    • @ Michelle: thanks! That seems like a really good idea.
      I visited the GW school last year… (Rebecca pointed me there): It was over the top wonderful.
      Schools are so incredibly important to Kingston, and GW seems like a jewel…
      How is it is not showcased, an outstanding public school.

  2. I think Hayes makes a very good point. While Zena is a fine school, it is rather out on the very point of the district and much of the Zena area is served by Woodstock. However, one has to look at the revenue brought in by those neighborhoods: if Zena were closed, it would make sense for people in that district to opt for changing the district boundaries so the kids could attend Woodstock schools…
    Then what happens?
    In closing 2 schools, where one becomes an alternative high school (is that for good students or poor ones?) then what are the remaining savings from closing just one of the schools? Does that go down? up?

  3. one more thing: what’s to be done? how and where will the citizens vote?
    As to the reasons behind the plans, where is it written? I was not able to find any kind of summary report on the costs and decision making…

  4. I currently work with a group of kids attending Meaghar and have a son who attended Zena 11 years ago. My vote is to bus the kids from Meagher to Zena. The country setting, plenty of space for growth, an opportunity to get out of their urban setting, I believe would be a boon to these children. And it might even help them with any obesity problems by providing after school programs in the gymn and the playground. As opposed to going home to tv or video games as street games are frowned upon and not necessarily safe in these neighborhoods.

  5. That assumes there is an obesity problem at Meagher and that is substantially reduced or absent at Zena, after normalizing for other variables such as income and school lunches provided or not. I gather too from the note that Meagher lacks a sufficient gym and playground, and that these are part of considerations for closing Meagher, ie, that the city is a less desirable place for children and the walking to school has no effect on reducing childhood obesity, bussing is a good way to spend time and the costs are negligible, that most of the kids at Zena are already bussed and bussing from Zena to a Kingston School wouldn’t be less disruptive… without all the facts and considerations in one place, hard to make a reasoned decision..

  6. I am amazed at the direction our governing bodies takes as often as there is financial stress. It will always be easier to close smaller schools, reduce or eliminate enriching arts, music, and athletics programs to gain quick financial fixes from the cuts. Unfortunately, I feel this is a result of laziness, and though I appreciate that such issues as school downsizing need to be discussed and analyzed as an option, it is the core principals and ethics of citizens and mature governing officials, to find more creative and responsible fiscal solutions facing the cities budgets.

    Although there may be some who disagree, I don’t hesitate to believe in the genuine selflessness of the many people in the Hudson Valley who, as strained as they are to survive in this economy, would find a way to support the deep roots of their communities, despite personal sacrifice.

    The answer to this issue will not be easy, will require great effort and collaboration, and will take time and patience. These values should be revived in our local government, in place of simply patching fiscal holes that require greater vision to see repaired. Ulster needs to change to see progress, and change is scary, but is required for growth and expansion.

    I was shaped by my experiences as a student at Meagher Elementary. The educational standards went above state mandates, and affected the morality and quality of the future citizens who would shape Kingston and Ulster County. I have since, worked at both Meagher and Sophie Finn and have personally, seen the difference a small school can make in the lives of a broad collection of students from diverse backgrounds. We have a duty to protect institutions like these, and the students who attend them, so Ulster will have a greater tomorrow. Our success is contingent upon the efforts of our generation pouring itself fully into the next and doing whatever it takes to see this come to pass.

    What have we accomplished, if we do not continue to pursue, and promote the unadulterated and fundamental attributes of hope to our children and to believe it ourselves? The issue of shutting down these schools, will affect us more personal than we can fully realize, and has far more of an impact in the long term than we can see with narrow eyes inside a quick budgetary solution.

    People like my Father, fought for my future in this same situation all throughout my schooling in Ulster County, and I can remember how dedicated he was to preserving what he saw in it. We must continue to make our voices heard, and not become complacent.

    Please, do whatever it takes to see to it that schools like these continue to bless and inspire the future minds of America. The alternative financial solutions exist, but we must have the courage to discover them and see them through with selfless ambition. Some mistakes, cannot easily be undone, and so I implore you again, to vote, to fight and to not settle for anything less than greatness.

    “The purpose of government,” said Thomas Jefferson, “is to allow for the preservation of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Any other function assumed by a government is oppressive and deconstructive.

  7. Please consider coming to Albany to speak with your state legislators about the need to disribute competitive gratn funding according to the Board of Regents recommendation that prioritizes high schools like Kingston. Calls, letters and lobbying can make the difference. Alliance for Quality Education has three lobby dates planned. Parents and education stakeholders can and should call to let their Senators and The Governor know that more is needed to sustain quality education after the last two years of cuts to state aid that have equalled $2.7 billion. Call Kat Fisher at 585–269-8605 for more information.

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