Transportation study could shape the future of the Saugerties Central School District’s elementary schools

The possible future of the Saugerties Central School District’s (SCSD) elementary schools continues to take shape as school officials last week shared an updated Governance Committee report which factors in a new transportation study. 
“We knew the transportation study was going to be a major factor in a lot of our decision-making,” said Superintendent Kirk Reinhardt during a Board of Education meeting held at Lawrence M. Cahill Elementary School on Tuesday, December 14. 
The primary objective of the district’s transportation efforts are to keep bus trips limited to less than one hour, maintain traditional school times and maintain the number of buses currently in operation across the SCSD at 24. 

There are a number of reasons the district is considering moving from four to three elementary schools, including the dwindling student population and a desire to become more efficient while increasing programming, aligning curriculum, achieving equity and enhancing education for all its students. 
An October report by the Governance Committee shows a projected $1 million budget shortfall for the SCSD in 2022-23, a $1.7 million gap for 2023-24, a $3.7 million chasm for 2024-25 and a $6.1 million shortfall for 2025-26. 
The study also charted a district-wide student population which peaked at around 3,500 in 2005-06 that has been on a steady decline ever since. The current student population is around 2,300, said Reinhardt, and though there are numerous residential projects either approved by or being reviewed by the Town Planning Board, the district is still projecting a modest annual decrease over the next decade, likely dropping to around 2,100 by the 2029-30 school year.
That report also said the district has an opportunity to become more efficient while increasing programming, aligning curriculum and enhancing education for all its students. To achieve that, they’ve offered three different models for a three-elementary school future. 
Model A would keep the current K-6 configuration intact for three elementary schools. The pros were listed as maintaining neighborhood schools, involve fewer transitions and simplified transportation. The cons are noted as less equity in class size, ESSA funding, curriculum consistency and programming; the possibility of future redistricting; and less cost savings. 
Model A would potentially save the district around $1.8 million a year. That savings would be realized in part through a reduction in staff, including 13.2 teachers, 8.5 teaching assistants, 2.5 monitors, two custodial workers, one custodian, one principal, one secretary and one food service worker. 
Model B would yield two buildings serving K-3 students and one students in grades 4-6. Some of the pros were shown as the same as Model A, and also included a balance in class sizes in grades 4-6 and a greater preparation for transition to middle school. Cons included less curriculum consistency in primary grades and the possibility of future K-3 redistricting. 
Morse and Charles M. Riccardi Elementary were deemed the best locations for the pair of K-3 buildings in the Model B scenario, with Cahill the best for the 4-6 building because it allows for more walkers and is a short distance from the Saugerties High School campus. This model would also require a drop-off at Saugerties High of 7 a.m., with a new school day beginning at 7:20 a.m. and ending at 1:53 p.m. The school day for the 4-6 Cahill would run from 8:35 a.m. through 2:48 p.m., while the K-3 school day at Morse and Riccardi would go from 9:35 a.m. until 3:48 p.m.
The potential cost savings of Model B are approximately $2.2 million per year, realized with a reduction of 15.1 teachers, 8.5 teaching assistants, 2.5 monitors, two custodial workers, one custodian, one principal, one secretary, one food service worker and a part-time data entry clerk. 
Model C would represent the most significant shift in the district, with three elementary academies, one serving K-2, another 3-4 and the last 5-6. The pros are cited as including equitable class size, ESSA funding and programming; increased programming; curriculum consistency; and no future need to redistrict. The cons are a loss of neighborhood schools, multiple transitions and a potentially byzantine transportation scenario with fewer walkers, longer bus rides, and an as yet undetermined cost. 
Model C would require the closure of Morse Elementary rather than Mt. Marion. Cahill would become the K-2 school, Mt. Marion 3-4 and Riccardi 5-6. 
Like Model B, Model C would require a drop-off at Saugerties High of 7 a.m., with a new school day beginning at 7:20 a.m. and ending at 1:53. p.m. The school day for the K-2 Cahill school would run from 9:35 a.m. through 3:48 p.m., while the 3-4 school day at Mt. Marion would go from 8:35 to 2:48 and the 5-6 school day at Riccardi would also run from 8:35 a.m. until 2:48 p.m.
Model C could potentially save the district $2.7 million annually. This scenario would include the loss of 17.8 teachers, 8.5 teaching assistants, 2.5 monitors, two custodial workers, one custodian, one principal, one secretary, and one food service worker. 
“This model obviously saves the most because once again, your sections are balanced out all the time,” Reinhardt said.
The superintendent said that there were a number of “non-negotiables” in designing each of the three potential scenarios. 
“We want to maintain three social workers, maintain three librarians, with four nurses and four psychologists,” he said. 
Reinhardt added that none of the three potential three-elementary school models would push capacity in any building anywhere near their limits, and class sizes would still remain at maximum within the 23-25 range.  
School officials hope to have a plan in place before the start of the 2022-23 school year. 
The next meeting of the SCSD Board of Education is scheduled for Tuesday, January 11 at Riccardi Elementary School.
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