Congers Redistricting Plan Called Short Sighted

Superintendent Dr. J. Thomas Morton
Superintendent Dr. J. Thomas Morton

Additional details shared about a proposed redistricting of Congers Elementary School students for the coming school year led to numerous questions and criticisms from parents at Thursday night’s school board meeting.   

Clarkstown School Superintendent Dr. J. Thomas Morton explained his recommendation to the school board to reassign Congers students for at least the 2014-2015 school year whether the $6.5 million bond to repair their school was passed or not. He recommended that the district not rent the former St. Augustine’s School for a second year and instead divide up the school’s 300 students between the Lakewood and New City elementary schools. However, his plan did not include information about where special education students would attend classes. 

Congers PTA Co-President Irene Lawlor said the plan was short sighted and remedial and looked at the situation short term not long term.

“Ultimately you’ll end up killing our community,” she said. 

Lawlor said she did not understand how the superintendent could leave special education students out of his plan, saying their parents needed to know what the future plans might be for their children. 

Parent Vicki Gianetti said she was unhappy to hear the words “assume” and “should” in the explanation of the plan. 

Board member Wendy Adolff also asked about where Congers’ two self-contained special education classes would be housed and was told no decision had been made.

Dr. Morton said the proposal would reduce the district budget by more than $1,250,000 because it would eliminate the positions of eight classroom teachers and several arts and music staffers, one principal, one nurse, two custodians, numerous clerical employees, one greeter and an undetermined number of teaching assistants.

Dr. Morton was his plan was based on the assumption that the kindergarten enrollment for September 2014 would be the same as in September 2013. 

According to his recommendation, Congers’ current 34 kindergarteners would be divided with 14 going to Lakewood and 20 to New City for first grade. The current 24 first graders would be split with 16 going to Lakewood and 8 to New City for second grade.

Congers’ current 39 second graders would be divided with 30 going to Lakewood and 9 to New City for third grade. The current 33 third graders would be split with 18 going to Lakewood and 15 to New City for fourth grade. The current 44 fourth graders would be divided with 25 joining fifth grade classes at Lakewood and 19 at New City. He said children living closest to the reservoir would be attending New City Elementary.

Board members questioned portions of the recommendation. Trustee Joe Malgieri said staff should not be laid off if the proposed $6.5 million bond passes to fund the repairs at Congers Elementary. The bond vote is scheduled for February 4th.

Adolff asked about the status of the demographer’s report on future enrollment, which the board approved in December.  Assistant Superintendent John LaNave said work on the report had not yet begun and when started would take several months.

Dr. Morton noted that classes at Congers had averaged fewer students than the district’s other elementary schools and said the school board would likely have to consider some type of redistricting in the future especially considering its financial issues.

“But the board is going to have to take a look at alternatives if all 10 (elementary) schools are kept on line,” he said. 

The issue of what would happen to the school closed since August because of unsafe conditions if the bond failed also came up for discussion. The superintendent said the two choices are to secure it or tear it down that he would not recommend it be sold. 

Securing the building for long-term vacancy would cost an estimated $60,000 not including utilities. Demolishing the school could run $3 million. One resident said the state education department limits the amount of time a school building can be vacant to 24 months. He said if the district decides to sell the building it would be required by law to sell to the highest bidder.

Speakers criticized the way the $6.5 million bond was being presented to the public and said it was dividing the Clarkstown community.  Some said the bond should have been approved for a larger amount and included funds for new roofs and essential repairs to other district schools. Several trustees said they would support another bond in the future to address those problems.

Parent Matt Kravitz said, " I don't think there's anybody here who wants anything but the best for their kids. This is about wanting. We want the best and we want the bond to pass."

Related articles -----

PTA Council: Congers Elementary School Questions Unanswered

Congers Elementary Realignment, Taxpayer Cost For Repair Bond 

Congers Elementary Bond Vote Set, Potential Redistricting Plan Underway

Board Votes For Congers Bond And Stays In Race To The Top

Congers Elementary Repairs Could Cost $8.3 Million

Additional Engineering Study Of Congers Elementary Approved

Board Vote to Finalize Lease For St. Augustine's

Congers Classes Moving To St. Augustine's Over Columbus Day

Congers Students Will Move To St. Augustine's School 

Congers Kids Want Their School Fixed

Motion To Move Congers Students To St. Augustine's Not Supported

New School Visits Scheduled For Congers Students

New School Tours Available For Congers Families

Hugs And Smiles Greet Congers Students At Laurel Plains

Congers Elementary School Closed For At Least One Year

Congers Kids Help Out Their School

Congers Elementary Parents Seek Assurances About School's Future

Congers School Closure Meeting Friday, Students Shifted To Other Schools

Parents Turn Out For Congers School Meeting

Congers Elementary School Declared Unsafe Will Not Open






Disgusted ClarkstownRES January 11, 2014 at 08:29 PM
Z...what you keep missing is it is not just $26 a year....that number is only if your house is assessed at a significant low value...the more your house is assessed the more you will pay. Also, every year your taxes go up that so called $26 increases your tax base...year after year...By the time you are done with this increase depending on how long the bond goes for I am sure you will be well over an additional $100 per year. Also, once the bond is paid off you do not get a decrease in your tax either...just so you are clear...so please stop with your $26 a year number....it definitely ends up way more than that
AnnieRose January 11, 2014 at 09:51 PM
In the past BoE were neglectful...Pools vs roofs...People were working ..lots of $ to throw at Fancy stuff...much different times now. Good schools = good home value. Taxes are high in areas all around us. I would rather pay to maintain Congers elementary than pay for any more damn fountains...and over done flower beds...
Rockland Resident January 11, 2014 at 10:02 PM
The district currently has income - made up primarily of local school taxes and state aid - and a surplus fund, which is basically the money they have in the bank. The district currently spends more each year than it "earns" in income. The difference is being pulled from the district's surplus fund\bank account. The forecast is the surplus fund will run out at roughly the end of the 2014-2015 school year (give or take.) We need to reduce expenses to bring them back in line with earnings (taxes + state aid.) The goal of the district is to reduce expenditures by about $ 10 million per year through several cost cutting measures. One of those measures being considered is the closing of an elementary school. It doesn't make financial sense to borrow $ 6.5 million to fix a school (the most expensive elementary school to fix) if we need to close a school.
Charles Clewsow January 11, 2014 at 11:18 PM
Z...not ranting , just stating the facts that when parents put their kids in a Day Care THEY. have to pay for their STANDARDS are a lot lower than when taxpayers are footing the bill. The State requirements for a Day Care are so minimal as to be ridiculous. A person owning a High Ranch can run a Day Care for 12-14 kids with a couple of teenagers watching them. That seems to be OK for a lot of parents but when they go to taxpayer funded school, they all of a sudden have these high standards. It is hypocritical.
Charles Clewsow January 11, 2014 at 11:27 PM
Z...Re: "Stay at home Moms" ,,,a terrible term coined by the Woman's Liberation Movement. You know vs. Career woman? Someone should ask them when the LIBERATION part starts to kick in with both parents overworked and stressed to the limit. PS, a lot of younger folks can get by on one salary ...it takes work and sacrifice but it can be done....and if more took the challenge, unemployment rate would drop and salaries for the single breadwinner would rise.
Charles Clewsow January 11, 2014 at 11:36 PM
Z..."FYI, my husband and I NEVER voted for the pool, planetarium, turf fields etc. As a matter of fact, we were baffled why people would vote for 7%, 8%, etc. tax increases.".....Neither did I. But the beneficiaries of this largesse , school employees, came out in droves and passed these budgets due to an apathetic citizenry.
Phil Leiter January 12, 2014 at 09:43 AM
So much of what being posted here is just flat wrong. (1) I am on the CCSD Community Workshop for the budget, and I can tell you that closing an elementary school is NOT, and has never been, one of the options to achieve the goal of a $10 million operating budget reduction. (2) The stated "savings" is $1.25 million, not $1.5 million. (3) That stated "savings" is not related to closing the school, but to the subsequent forced redistricting of the students and the consolidation of class sections. The actual direct savings of closing the school is less than $400,000, or about $20/year per household - which is why closing a school has never been an option in trying to save $10 million per year. Might as well eliminate toilet paper from the budget. (4) That redistricting and consolidation is going to take place whether or not a school is closed, and so too will that entire stated "savings". Closing the school just makes the redistricting task easier for the Board and puts the bulk of its effect on Congers students. And that would be fair...how? (5) I'm getting a little worn out seeing the building referred to as being "100 years old". One section was built in 1927. The rest of the building was built at the same time as many of the other buildings in the district. You're deluding yourself if you think this is the only school that needs $6 million and more in repairs. (6) The $26 per year assessment is the average over the life of the bond for the average home in Clarkstown, not homes with a "significant low value". Most years that amount is lower, some years that amount is higher, but the average is $26. (7) That $26 assumes that this Bond will be the first proposal EVER to not receive state aid to repair an existing building. Initial denials for aid are routine, but the state inevitably provides aid on appeal. That reduces the cost to $10 per year. (8 and last) Dr. Morton and Board members said that if the bond passes there would be no discussion of closing any elementary schools. Why? Well, I certainly haven't found any great savings in closing any elementary schools. And as Dr. Morton said, it is irresponsible to close a school without the information, serious discussions and planning that is required for a decision that will have ramifications for years to come. The situation in Congers gave the Board an opportunity to avoid all that hard work. Voting "no" to the bond rewards that irresponsibility; voting "yes" for the bond will force the Board to do its job for the entire district.
Clarkstown Dad January 12, 2014 at 10:39 AM
@Phil .... So if the Demographer said to close Congers (the oldest school with the lowest enrollment and in most need of repair) then you would be in agreement to close Congers as well?
Phil Leiter January 12, 2014 at 10:55 AM
The demographer would just be one factor in a series, including financial, geographical, transport, and others. I will say this, if those factors did point to the advantages of closing an elementary school, then yes, of course, I would consider it. However, this is not a decision to be made without the due and careful consideration of all of those factors.
Clarkstown Dad January 12, 2014 at 11:26 AM
@Phil .... sorry but you can't have it both ways. If the Board does its job as you say and gets the demographer who says close it and the Board says OK based on that and other factors any reasonable person/board would consider including ones I have mentioned then ....? ............................................................................................... Financial has been covered ....... Geographical is the demographer ........ Transport .... heck we tell the buss where to go
Rockland Resident January 12, 2014 at 11:54 AM
The community workshop definitely discussed the option of closing one, or even two, elementary schools. This doesn't mean the board will vote on it - but it was one of several options discussed, and would save a couple million dollars. Yes, the savings come primarily from the reduction in staff and not the actual shuttering of the facility itself. This isn't about fair vs unfair -- if a school has to be closed, it's about making the smartest decision based both on impact of finances and number of people. In this case, we already have a school offline, and it happens to be the one with the smallest student population. If you are going to re-district for savings, I don't see how you can really save all that much without closing a school. And at the last board meeting, Dr Morton did NOT say there would be no discussion of closing a school of the bond DOES pass - he specifically said the board should have detailed discussions about the topic before doing it. If the bond does NOT pass, well, then the community has made the decision.
ADK January 12, 2014 at 08:37 PM
Clarkstown dad, this is precisely why this bond is ill conceived and ill advised...it must be postponed until a full plan is in place. It would be the ultimate irony if the bond passed and some current Congers families were redistricted to New City to allow for the Lakewood kids that will be displaced when it's determined that only one of those two schools will remain...it does exactly what everyone claims to not want...pitting neighborhoods against each other in the "bond sweepstakes"...as I discussed before, the other potential "at risk" schools families--Lakewood, Little Tor, West Nyack would be out of their minds to vote for this bond...it increases the risk that they will be contracted...with all due respect to Phil Leiter, whose opinions I value, I find it inconceivable that the Board will keep all the elementary schools intact after the redistricting...the issue is not one of overcrowding in some areas and room in others, it's a current and continued decline in population...in my opinion, the only way to save all the buildings while achieving savings is to pair schools by grades levels, an idea which was almost universally hated by parents when it was proposed 20 years ago...perhaps given the current climate it can be revisited...
Clarkstown Dad January 12, 2014 at 08:52 PM
ADK no argument about bond being ill-conceived and hopefully having no chance to pas ..... ironic that it was the Congers supporters of the board who put this in place. Based on population I don't see how anyone from Congers would be moved, but I do see how New City kids would go there. I also agree the other areas you mention would likely not vote for this bond. Unfortunately this board is not working well together ..... Malgeri has seen to that just as he did with prior boards he was on. Took me a while but I see now that if he is not in charge he does what he can to make life miserable for the rest of people who don't vote his way.... and sometimes even if he is in charge. On the population decline .... I'll say it again as I truly believe that younger families are just staying away as they cannot afford our higher tax base ..... Rockland/Clarkstown is just not as desirable as it used to be because of this.
ADK January 12, 2014 at 09:07 PM
Think about the numbers in Lakewood,Congers and New city...there is enough room to absorb all of Congers in the other two schools...that means that only two are needed...if Congers is rebuilt, There would be a "western shift"...much of Lakewood to Congers, some of Congers to New City...Little Tor could be absorbed into Link and Woodglen, but Woodglen is close to capacity with a new Neighborhood being built on Smith farm...west nyack would require a long bus ride to strawtown and bardonia...Lakewood is also a "newer school" it's a twin of Woodglen...built in 1967 I think and renovated in the 1990s...probably has good value on the open market...
Phil Leiter January 12, 2014 at 09:48 PM
Actually, what put this bond in place was the “yea” votes of Mr. Aglialoro and Mr. Carlucci, which is inexplicable since the former had stated publicly that he would not support a Congers-only bond and the latter said he would not vote for a bond without a full analysis. Such an analysis would almost certainly prove many of the assumptions presented here to be wrong. For example, there is no data to suggest that schools should be closed simply by the size of current student populations. One could better argue that a physical capacity/population ratio would be more effective in cost reductions and managing class sections, which would target schools closer to 1/1 ratios for closing. In any event, I don't believe any elementary school should be closed because the savings on the facilities are marginal. No one has shown otherwise. I further believe that each neighborhood in Clarkstown feels the same way about their elementary school as the Congers neighborhood does about theirs. Neighborhoods can either vote no out of fear of the unknown and demonstrate to the Board that closing schools is an option even with no actual data to support that option, or they can vote yes and make known to the Board that they better have some solid data that strongly supports the necessity of closing a school. If you want to consider some numbers, including the supposed perpetual decline in our demographics, here’s a few: http://pleiter.blogspot.com/2013/12/7-reasons-to-justify-closing-elementary.html
ADK January 12, 2014 at 10:14 PM
What can't be debated is that the District has a multi million dollar budget shortfall that grows each year...we have used up all the financial "tricks" at our disposal and now have to make real choices...I don't know if closing a building is the correct choice, but consolidation does save real money in salaries and benefis for those positions that would be contracted...
Phil Leiter January 12, 2014 at 11:14 PM
On this we are agreed, ADK. I view the discussion on closing elementary schools as the last and least effective of the financial tricks. As I've said from the beginning, consolidation does not require shutting down an elementary school.
Disgusted ClarkstownRES January 13, 2014 at 08:21 AM
I still do not see any rationale in keeping this building open...this is emotional at best and the bottom line is it would be emotional for any community within Clarkstown to hear it's building has the potential to be closed...closing this building saves this district 1.25 million dollars which we all know is due to staff reductions. Our shortfall is real and will smack us in the face soon enough.
New City Madonna January 13, 2014 at 03:03 PM
I went to dinner last night with a friend whose children go to Laurel Plains Elementary School. She told me that she is extremely upset at what she calls the special treatment Congers Elementary School is receiving. She said her school had an odor issue a few years back and no one came at that time to help her children. She said other parents in Laurel Plains are upset as well. I pulled up old articles on what happened in Laurel Plains but I can't say I understand it all. Can someone here tell me if what my friend said is true, that Laurel Plains wasn't given the same attention as Congers is now? Thanks!
Myles P January 13, 2014 at 03:18 PM
You are really reaching now Lady (man) Madonna. If any school in this district was having an issue things would be handled the best way possible (hopefully). Now to compare the problem in LP, which was a short term issue, to the one in Congers (A VERY LONG TERM ISSUE) is silly. Those poor kids were uprooted from their school and juggled a few times. BUT the very real difference here is THEY ( and their parents) KNEW THEY WERE GOING BACK INTO THEIR SCHOOL. No answers and no hope for these Congers students to return to their school is unacceptable IMO.
Sean McGowan January 13, 2014 at 06:25 PM
I am what you would call a "Younger Family" and also moved into Clarkstown a little over a year ago. one of the main reasons why i chose Clarkstown was because of the school district. Although we might have been able to get more for our money in other areas of Rockland & Orange Counties We ruled most areas out because the school district was not highly rated and as any parent we want the best for our children. If you look at the surrounding areas, Clarkstown taxes are comparable. Don't get me wrong they are high but schools are not were we should be making cuts. This directly effect the value of our childrens educations and the value of our homes. IMO we can make drastic cuts to our property taxes very easily as they ultimately come out of the same pocket. I know of many younger families that have and would like to move into Clarkstown but i can guarantee they will think twice about it if the schools start to close (especially Congers). As Phil Leiter stated in a previous comment if the appeals process fails if will be the first one EVER to do so. Therefore it will most likely raise our taxes by $10. The administration has stated that they are not interested in selling the land and therefore the building would need to be demolished. I believe the state covers 55% of the cost of a capital improvement therefore the cost to CCSD taxpayer would be approximately $3M. To demolish the building it will cost the same as this is not a capital improvement.
Clarkstown Dad January 13, 2014 at 08:05 PM
I suppose the term marginal savings is relative ...... the estimate from some were a savings of $1.5 Mill a year ..... every year just by doing this one move ..... marginal??? So by doing the bond we not only do not save this $ but we add the $6.5 Mill tag on top of it. To all the Congers Bond supports I'll ask again .... if we don't start here then where do you propose the $10Mill shortfall come from ..... this may be my third time asking this and to no surprise I have not had one response. Great to hear Sean say we can make drastic cuts ..... where? Please Congers Bond supports ..... "show me the money" ..... the shortfall is now, what happens when all the contracts are renegotiated in a few years
Sean McGowan January 13, 2014 at 09:08 PM
Please read my entire statement "We can make drastic cuts to our PROPERTY taxes very easily as they ultimately come out of the same pocket"...... for starters overpaid politicians, granite curbs and brick sidewalks could have been done with concrete. My point we can reduce spending at the town level also because they ultimately come out of the same pocket.
Rockland Resident January 13, 2014 at 10:02 PM
I know you're aware, but town\county taxes are completely separate from school taxes. Savings need to be found in both. The school budget increased dramatically in the past 3 years - yet we're educating fewer kids, and didn't fix any schools (except minor repairs, and we are starting one roof.) It's $ 195 million this year. It's projected to be $ 205 million next year, with still fewer kids. Doesn't that seem out of line?
Clarkstown Dad January 13, 2014 at 10:21 PM
OK, good luck with that ..... I'm sure Gromack is just looking for a reason to lower our taxes by 10%
Phil Leiter January 13, 2014 at 11:44 PM
One more time - The $1.25 million "savings" is strictly in staff reductions, not from closing a school. The savings from closing a CCSD facility averages less than $400,000, so in the case of the elementary schools it's probably about $200,000 each (the middle and high schools get the lion's share). $200K in a $195,000,000 budget is "marginal". The Board President and the Administration have made it clear that staff reductions have to happen to get spending under control. I completely agree, because the increases in spending since 2010 have been almost entirely due to state mandated contributions to employee benefits. It is not at all necessary to close a single elementary school to achieve that goal. You want some suggestions? OK. We have about 300 TA's in the District, and only half are required. The rest are optional. Let's eliminate just half of those optional positions. That's $2.75 million dollars per year. Then let's take that $1.25 million that comes from consolidating just three schools and make the safe assumption that much smaller class section adjustments across 10 schools equal at least that. $4 million. Reduce textbook purchase cycles, eliminate a few optional programs, extend the distance for buses and you've reduced $5 million dollars in annual expenses without sacrificing one school or one vital program. Pretty sure there's another $5 million and change among the middle school, high schools and administration. Closing schools - the main asset that drives families to move here - is not the smart way to reduce expenses.
Myles P January 14, 2014 at 07:51 AM
Excellent ideas Phil and I agree wholeheartedly. Now we wait to hear Clarkstown Dad stomp his feet and say "just close the school" bc he claims that is the quickest easiest fix. But what CD and other "less astute" people don't realize is that closing a school as a domino effect. Once it happens you can't "take it back". The damage is done to the town and the district the school is in. Again, as Phil stated, CLOSING SCHOOLS IS NOT THE ANSWER. And I really hope Lanave and Morton, or any board members for that matter try to get other positions with a "closed school" on their resumes. Not going to happen.
Rock1nRockland January 14, 2014 at 10:05 PM
Right on Phil and Myles. How about a retirement incentive for senior staff members? I'm not too sure what's involved in that, but new hires at I'm sure 1/2 or less the compensation might save a good amount. Closing schools is not the way to go!
Phil Leiter January 15, 2014 at 12:06 AM
Dr. Morton mentioned potential retirements at the last Board meeting as somehow mitigating the staff reductions he discussed. I'm not sure why. Retirement incentives have already been done to the point that teachers would have to be offered more to retire early than to stay on the payroll. The CCSD staff is pretty young as a result. He knows this, and Mr. LaNave has made that clear to the public. The only option left is to reduce staff based on the realignment to increase the number of children in class sections and to determine the number of optional staff we're willing to maintain.
steve January 18, 2014 at 12:24 PM
All points made are valid, but the system of procurement of funds is backwards. As I have said before is get multiple bids from vetted companies, include provisos thatork has to finished on time and up to code, penalties for work that comes in over budget and not on time. When you have a proper figure a bond issue will be much easier to pass. Also enforce penalties for the misuse of property that is not zoned according to the law and use part of those funds to put into the repair of the school. It's time for the politicians to show some backbone and stop bending over to 1 voter bloc


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