By Erin Maher
Alarmed parents packed the Fox Lane Middle School gym last Wednesday evening to strenuously oppose the Bedford School District’s consideration of eliminating up to two of its elementary schools in the near future due to declining enrollment.
Many district parents were startled following a Sept. 18 e-mail from Superintendent of Schools Dr. Christopher Manno, which outlined the district’s long-range facilities plan. One option would be to operate as few as three elementary schools beginning in September 2021.
Currently, the district operates Mount Kisco, West Patent, Bedford Village, Bedford Hills and Pound Ridge elementary schools.
The district could also choose to close one school or make no changes. Determination of which school or schools, if any, may close will be made following an extensive public outreach process.
“The board has not made any decisions at all,” Board of Education President Colette Dow told the crowd at the Oct. 2 board meeting. “All options are on the table.”
Dr. Dale Mann, managing director of Interactive Inc., an education-related consultant firm that the district has retained, reviewed the alternatives with the board, and noted that if any schools closed, decisions regarding whether the remaining elementary school buildings become K-4 schools must be made.
Allocation of any savings from the potential closures must also be evaluated, he said.
There will be four community forums, two each on Oct. 22 and Oct. 23, to gauge community reaction as a start of the engagement and planning process. By March, Manno is expected to make a recommendation to the Board of Education based on the stakeholder feedback derived from the focus groups and community forums. In April or May, the board will announce its preferred option. Trustees will then officially make their decision next June.
During public comments, 21 of the 22 parents who spoke opposed closing any school, citing students’ emotional well-being, potential compromised educational experiences for students and the likelihood of devaluation of houses in the area.
Mount Kisco resident Brian Sullivan, a teacher for 17 years in another Westchester district and who has three children attending Bedford schools, all with Individualized Education Programs (IEP), said class size continues to tick upward in many districts even as enrollment declines. Sullivan appealed to district officials to not let that happen in Bedford, saying that “it would be a mistake.”
“The discussion that happens at this level, compared to what is actually happening in the classroom, tends to be so much window dressing,” Sullivan said. “I am not able to educate all my students as I once was. It’s not even close. I need you to consider that when you think about how your teachers will interact with all of the students in their classroom.”
Jennifer Kothari, a Bedford Village resident with three children in the district, also opposed the possibility of elementary school closures, calling it “a terrible idea for our students and taxpayers.”
Kothari, along with former board trustees Pam Harney and Michelle Brooks founded Neighbors Together for BCSD, an organization formed to address concerns about a possible school closure and its impact on the community. So far, the group has held two public forums to give parents the chance to discuss the issue.
“It’s simple, closing a school would result in larger class sizes, less teachers and longer time spent on a bus for our children,” said Kothari, a member of the original Space and Enrollment Committee when it formed in 2015-16. “None of these benefit our students’ education.”
The facilities plan is spearheaded by the district’s Space and Enrollment Committee. Since June 2017, the committee has been working with Dr. Paul Seversky from the SES Study Team, a demographic and strategic planning firm, to assess the district’s enrollment and school capacity.
Last December, Seversky presented his findings to the Bedford Board of Education. His report showed the projected school enrollment decline over the next five years and beyond. He estimated that by the end of the 10-year period concluding in 2028, high school enrollment will drop by 28 percent. There were 1,384 students in grades 9-12 in 2018 and only 997 students are anticipated in those grades by 2028.
Districtwide enrollment has fallen from 4,367 students in 2013-14 to 3,915 last year, according to the district’s statistics.
The first two community forums later this month to address the issue will be at the Fox Lane Middle School Little Theater on Tuesday, Oct. 22 at 4 and 7 p.m. On Wednesday, Oct. 23, one forum will take place at the administration building at 9:30 a.m. with the second one at the middle school theater at 6 p.m.
To see Dr. Mann’s presentation, visit https://go.boarddocs.com/ny/bcsd/Board.nsf/files/BGKRB56D1F37/$file/Interactive%20Inc%2010022019.pdf