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Stimulus may save Duggan and Chase schools

Impact study sought

By FRITZ MAYER

WHITE LAKE, NY — With President Barack Obama signing the $747 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or stimulus bill, on February 17, it’s now certain that New York State will be getting about $2.5 billion for education. It’s not entirely clear, yet, how and where the money will be spent, but it seems possible that two elementary schools in the Monticello Central School District will remain open for at least two more years.

Superintendent Patrick Michel had been expected to make a recommendation to the board on February 17 to close either the Emma C. Chase Elementary School in Wurtsboro or the Cornelius Duggan Elementary School in White Lake to help with a serious budget shortfall in the district.

Michel said he would be delighted if the stimulus money meant that he did not have to make that recommendation. Residents who have been fighting the closings greeted the stimulus news with relief but are still looking for assurances that the schools will stay open after the stimulus funds are depleted.

Before news of the stimulus came out, there was discussion about whether the superintendent would conduct an impact study.

At a town board meeting in Bethel on February 12, the board passed a resolution calling for the school district to undertake such a study, and to form an advisory committee to oversee the study and interpret the findings. The resolution also called for residents of Bethel to be among the members of the committee.

According to Jo-Ann Peabody, a spokesperson for Bethel United to Save Our Schools (BUSS), New York State law authorizes school districts to take such steps and recommends that they do so. But the impact study and advisory group are not mandatory.

Michel said that if the closure was still necessary, even in light of the stimulus passing, he would go forward with the study. He said, however, it would be guided by outlines set out in state statute and would focus on impacts on the district, and not, as some activists have demanded, on the impacts to an individual community.

Some residents of Bethel are concerned that the effects of the closure of Duggan on the community would be quite negative. Information on the BUSS web site says, “ rural communities with schools had higher rates of growth, higher housing values, a lower percentage of households receiving public assistance, more professional workers and entrepreneurs, and higher per capita self-employment income than rural communities that had lost their schools.”

At the Bethel meeting, council member Denise Frangipane noted the many meetings that have already been held regarding the issue of closing the two schools and that more are ahead. She said, “I plead with the community to show up at these meetings.” She said that a much heavier turnout was needed to influence the process and the decision that might be made.

There will be a meeting on the subject at the White Lake Fire House on Route 17B in White Lake on Tuesday, February 24 at 7:00 p.m. The website for BUSS is www.savedugganschool.org .

TRR photo by Fritz Mayer
The Duggan School in Kauneonga Lake, part of the Monticello School District, is one of two schools slated for possible closure due to a tight budget. (Click for larger version)