FORT EDWARD — All Fort Edward middle and high school students could be accommodated into the South Glens Falls schools, if a merger were to occur, according to a consultant’s analysis.
Consultant Alan Pole said at the Dec. 18 merger advisory committee meeting that there is adequate room.
Officials from both districts agreed at the start of the study that the Fort Edward school building would stay open for at least five years after a merger. Pole said based upon enrollment projections, he believes the Fort Edward building would need to stay open to house elementary students for the foreseeable future.
“South Glens Falls elementary schools are fairly crowded. I wouldn’t say they’re overcrowded, but there isn’t a lot of extra space,” he said at the meeting, which was conducted entirely virtually because of the rising COVID-19 cases.
By contrast, there is a significant amount vacant space in Fort Edward’s building, according to Pole.
Pole said if the Fort Edward building was retained as an elementary school in the newly merged district, there may be a need to shift some second- and third-grade students over to Harrison Avenue Elementary School in South Glens Falls, for example, in order to keep class sizes down.
Three full-sized classrooms at Fort Edward are vacant and four are being used for instruction. In addition, speech therapy and other special services are in full-size rooms. In other districts, these services would be offered in half-sized rooms.
In addition, four classrooms are being rented to a private preschool and one is leased by the local BOCES.
Fort Edward Superintendent of Schools Dan Ward said the reason why rooms are being used as storage is furniture had to be removed from some classrooms in order to increase social distancing to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, services such as speech and academic intervention were given larger spaces for the same reason.
So actually, there would be more vacant rooms if COVID-19 were not a factor, he added.
Pole said the rooms at the South Glens Falls Middle School building are being used about three-quarters of the time for students in grades 6-8. There would be room to add the roughly 78 students from Fort Edward.
The high school rooms are being used about 94% of the time, which is a pretty good utilization rate. Still, he believes there would be room to accommodate the 108 students from Fort Edward.
Fort Edward community members have expressed concern that the school would close at some point in a merger.
“What is the likelihood that they’re going to need this building and what’s going to happen if they don’t,” asked Marianne Stark, president of the Fort Edward Teachers Association. “It seems like this must be something that’s being talked about. I think it’s only fair to the people in Fort Edward to have an idea of what will come of this building that sits in the middle of their village.”
Pole said it is difficult to predict the future, but pointed out if one of the five elementary schools needed to close in a merged district, people should not assume that it would be Fort Edward’s building.
South Glens Falls Superintendent Kristine Orr said she and Ward have not had any conversations about the building.
Orr said the district had been holding steady on its enrollment and now it is starting to dip. For example, at Ballard Elementary School, enrollment dropped by about 100 students in six years.
Ward agreed with Pole’s assessment of South Glens Falls’ space and need to keep the Fort Edward building open.
“We don’t see a way for this building to close because the students just can’t be housed with the facilities they have right now,” he said.
Fort Edward math teacher Nelson Chase said he is not sure if it is realistic to keep Fort Edward open if it had only about 150 students.
Transportation was also part of the discussion.
Consultant Deb Ayers said that if the districts were to merge, the district would need to add three bus routes twice a day. The cost would be about $55,000 when factoring in salaries and benefits. However, the state transportation aid would pick up about 70% of the cost, leaving a local share of just under $17,000.
The committee broke up into small virtual groups to discuss the matter further.
Among some of the benefits of adding bus routes would be possibly shortening the routes and could also result in more trips for after-school events.
However, there was concern about possible increased time spent by students on the bus. Also, in a merged district, parents may have to drive to South Glens Falls to pick up their children following an after-school activity or sports practice, or a shuttle would have to be run back to the Fort Edward school.
Tim Dawkins, assistant superintendent for South Glens Falls, said another concern expressed was the fact that counselors at Fort Edward help track down students who are late and truant.
“That was not going to be an intervention that was going to happen, obviously, if they were taking a bus to the middle school or high school in South Glens Falls,” he said.
Amanda Durkee, parent of a student and wife of a teacher, said her concern was the word “opportunities” was used in the summary of the previous meeting. Some people are concerned about larger class sizes if there were a merger and that was not taken into account.
“It’s automatically making it sound super and fantastic, and I’m not saying it’s not super and fantastic but what one person views is an opportunity may be different than what I view as an opportunity,” she said.