A new player re-emerges

| 15 Feb 2012 | 11:33

Chester School District re-enters the mix in Greenwood Lake’s search for a high school for its 300 students GREENWOOD LAKE — The Greenwood Lake School District has confirmed that the Chester School District is back as a candidate to accept its high school students beginning in September 2013. “That is the new 'news’ from us,” said Greenwood Lake Superintendents of Schools Richard Brockel. “Things do change and opinions do change. It does give us another small school option.” Chester now joins the Tuxedo and Warwick Valley school districts in their quest to get those students to be part of their high school programs. With the fourth year of a five-year contract with the Tuxedo School District to be completed in June, the Greenwood Lake School Board is in the midst of a due diligence process to find a district which would accept its high school students, knowing New York State will not allow the district to build its own high school. Greenwood Lake students travel about 11 miles each morning to Tuxedo High School; the ride to school in Warwick would be able 9 miles, the trip to Chester approximately 12 miles. Chester School Superintendent Sean Michel said the district was contacted on Jan. 27, asking it to reassess its interest. “We were initially approached by Greenwood Lake in December, asking if we would have a preliminary discussion to accept their high school students on a tuition basis,” said Michel in a statement. “The Board of Education and I agreed that this was too big a decision to make without first meeting with our residents. After our preliminary discussion, it was determined that the initial time line could not be met and still have the appropriate time to meet with our community.” Brockel added: “Originally, Chester’s timeline was different than ours, but now that has changed.” Michel said the Chester Board of Education is not willing to move forward without first hearing from the Chester community. A Feb. 9 community forum will “discuss the opportunities and challenges this relationship may bring both in the current economic climate and in the future as our student enrollment declines,” he added. Students as revenue sources In a statement, Michel said as his district prepares its 2012-2013 school budget, conversations will focus on how the district can be more efficient in daily operations and find new revenue sources. Having Greenwood Lake students come to Chester is a revenue opportunity. “Our goal is always to offer the best possible education for our students, but in order to do this we will need to 'think outside the box,’” Michel said. “We do not anticipate a sudden influx of students to fill our classrooms. Neither can we expect a sudden increase in state aid to make up for revenue losses. We need to find new revenue sources to continue to offer the same level of programs and services.” Brockel said Chester officials will present its version of the presentations given by its Tuxedo and Warwick counterparts on Thursday, Feb. 16, at the Greenwood Lake Middle School. That brings a new mix of suitors before the Greenwood Lake Board, now that Monroe-Woodbury withdrew its district from consideration. Majority, minority, equal Brockel said with 300 Greenwood Lake students to place, having them attend George F. Baker High School - the incumbent - would allow them to maintain their “majority” population status. Should Warwick be selected, he said, those students would have a “minority” status, Brockel said, among more than 1,400 students there. Now, with Chester courting Greenwood Lake to have kids attend its Chester Academy High School, there could be essentially a 50/50 blend of students because of Chester’s high school census of approximately 300 students, added Brockel. The Tuxedo School District, where students have attended for 30 years, wants to maintain the existing relationship. With 300 of its 380 students coming from Greenwood Lake, its high school viability is at stake. Tuxedo Schools Chief Carol Lomascolo has said the district is eager to work with its Greenwood Lake counterparts to find new consolidation opportunities while stressing she understands the fiscal responsibilities Tuxedo has to both Greenwood Lake and Tuxedo taxpayers. Also courting the Greenwood Lake Board of Education is the Warwick Valley School District. Warwick Superintendent of School Dr. Raymond Bryant has said the mid-sized high school can offer Greenwood Lake students many benefits that smaller schools like Tuxedo and Chester can’t. He has said there has always been an interest in having Greenwood Lake students - most of whom live in the Town of Warwick - attend school in their own town, even though Warwick voters turned down having those students attend the high school almost five years ago. Bryant has said having Greenwood Lake students attend would be a good revenue opportunity for the district, adding the district has the student transition experience to handle accepting students based on its success dealing with the closing of Pine Island Elementary. Last week, the Monroe-Woodbury School District withdrew its name from consideration in the process, citing the need to focus on developing a 2012-2013 school budget requiring approximately $7 million in cuts. Monroe-Woodbury Superintendent of Schools Edward Mehrhof said there would be many issues that would potentially affect the educational process for both districts, and he was not certain the district would be able to negotiate a tuition rate which fell below the Seneca Falls formula, as Tuxedo has done. Brockel expressed disappointment over Monroe-Woodbury’s decision, but added: “I understand its reasons.” Greenwood Lake officials continue to expect to put a high school choice before Greenwood Lake voters by the end of the current school year, which would then give them the 2012-2013 school year to negotiate a contract with that district. “The board will make a decision based on objective facts, based on program offerings and tuition being charged,” said Brockel. “The board is still looking at every option.” What’s next? In Chester Thursday, Feb. 9, at 7 p.m. at the Chester Academy: Chester School District officials will hold a community forum for interested people” to discuss the opportunities and challenges this relationship may bring both in the current economic climate and in the future as our student enrollment declines,” according to Chester Schools Chief Sean Michel. In Greenwood Lake Thursday, Feb. 16, at 7 p.m. at the Greenwood Lake Middle School: Chester School District officials will present “What Makes You Proud of Your High School,” where they will only discuss the merits of their high school. Wednesday, Feb. 22, and Tuesday, Feb. 28, at the Greenwood Lake Middle School: The Greenwood Lake Board of Education will hold community forums where the public can discuss the three presentations and offer their thoughts to the Board of Education as the due diligence process continues. Waiting in the wings The Tuxedo School District made its “What Makes You Proud of Your High School” presentation on Jan. 17; and the Warwick Valley School District gave its presentation on Jan. 26. Greenwood Lake Schools Chief Richard Brockel said they were well attended by “several hundred people who asked informative questions that the superintendents of both districts responded to. They were good.”