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Superintendent Jeff Simons addresses parents in the Bell Top gymnasium

Superintendent Jeff Simons addresses parents, staff and community members on Monday evening in the Bell Top gymnasium regarding the proposed boundary changes.

East Greenbush Central School District hosted its first two community meetings about the proposed changes to school boundaries for Bell Top, Genet and Red Mill earlier this week. Superintendent Jeff Simons presented the proposal to parents, staff and community members at Bell Top on Monday and Red Mill on Tuesday.

Mr. Simons answered questions at both events, and at the Bell Top meeting, because of the large crowd, question cards were collected at the conclusion of the event to ensure all questions would be answered.

Answers to those questions have been listed below. If you have other questions or concerns about the proposal, please attend the final community meeting which is scheduled for Monday, January 14 at 6:30 p.m. in the Genet Conference Room. Additionally, Mr. Simons is planning to provide an update on the proposed plan at the Board of Education meeting tonight at 7 p.m. in the Genet Auditorium.

Q: Our family moved into the Bell Top area for the school. Why can’t we leave the zones as they are?
A: Leaving the school boundaries as they are is not an option because the enrollment in the Bell Top zone is growing too fast for the footprint of the building. Unfortunately, no school district can guarantee attendance zones will remain the same forever. We understand the concern on the part of parents, but we need to address the enrollment growth in the Bell Top zone while limiting the disruption to current students and their families.

Families intending to purchase a home in our school district are encouraged to contact the Registration Office to find out whether the home is within our district and in which elementary school zone. Families should also know that all five of our elementary schools are New York State Education Department designated “Schools in Good Standing”, with talented and dedicated teachers and staff, teaching a common curriculum.

Q: Will there be a possible expansion built at Bell Top?
A: Building an addition onto Bell Top is not an option at this time. Construction of a new classroom would cost, at a minimum, approximately $250,000-$300,000 at an estimated $300.00 per square foot. As stated at the meeting, the state will not provide aid for any new construction if space is available at other buildings in the district, so all of the costs would be paid by local taxpayers.

Q: What is the tax impact for this proposal?
A: There is no tax impact for the proposed plan. We are utilizing space at Genet and Red Mill Elementary Schools.

Q: Why can’t the new construction areas go to a school other than Bell Top?
A: The zones that would change to Genet and Red Mill in the proposed plan are contiguous to those schools. As we consider rezoning, we must consider many factors which include our transportation plan.

Q: I understand that the proposed plan has a cap of 50 kindergarten students for next year. What happens once we go over the cap? Is it going to be first come first serve?
A: We will make that decision after we determine the enrollment.

Q: If other schools have more available space, why would it be so difficult to make a “therapeutic environment” that would be acceptable to CTAEP students in one of those schools?
A: Three sites (Bell Top, Genet and Green Meadow) were initially reviewed five years ago when CTAEP began, and Bell Top was determined to be the most suitable location (separation from other students, private entrance, etc.) and the only site with little to no construction/modification of physical space required to accomplish the therapeutic environment. However, relocation of CTAEP is under consideration.

Q: Does CTAEP need 3 classrooms for 10-20 kids?
A: Yes. The CTAEP students require more than one classroom because the students enrolled include 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th graders who all need to meet their respective academic requirements. The CTAEP staff teach on a rotation to meet these grade-level requirements for students, covering 15 different core and elective credit bearing courses and preparing for 5 to 6 different Regents Exams each year.

Q: If there is serious consideration of moving CTAEP, is there still reason to redistrict for 2019-20? Could we put it off?
A: Even if we make the decision to move CTAEP to a different building within the district, which we are currently considering, we would still need to move the school boundary zones to accommodate the enrollment growth in the Bell Top zone. As was stated at the meeting, the district is trying to be proactive about managing our enrollment, and with the growth in the Bell Top zone, we likely need to take multiple steps to address this issue.

Q: What assurances will be given to younger siblings of current students in the future?
A: Unfortunately, we cannot give any assurances beyond next year. This proposed plan is intended to have the least amount of disruption on our current Bell Top students and their families. However, if enrollment continues to grow in the North Greenbush area over the next few years, future rezoning could be a possibility.

Q: What has the district done to plan for enrollment growth in the Bell Top area?
A: East Greenbush Central School District commissions an annual enrollment report produced by the Capital District Regional Planning Commission, which is presented at a public committee meeting and a public Board of Education meeting and posted on our website. We also meet with North Greenbush town officials annually as part of the Budget Review and Advisory Committee and we monitor student enrollment on a consistent basis in the Registration Office.

We are reviewing additional steps we can take to receive more frequent updates from the town.

Q: Why are we making a decision on zones without doing a 5-year demographic enrollment study (area, income level and grade level by area) before a decision? The last one was done in 2012. My son is in the district’s highest enrolled grade K-5. Will he be going from one overcrowded school to another overcrowded school?
A: The proposed change involves so few students at this time that overcrowding at either Genet or Red Mill is not a concern. As far as the demographic enrollment study, these are typically done after a U.S. Census report is completed. The most recent census was done in 2010, so if we were to create a new study now, it would be based on data from almost 10 years ago. The next census will be done in 2020, so the district is considering a new demographic enrollment study in 2021.

Q: Amid the current rezoning plan, will Bell Top gain classroom space to be utilized as science/STEM labs and/or stationary spaces (not multi-purpose) to accommodate small group instruction for Special Education teachers?
A: The current rezoning plan and registration cap on Kindergarten registration is intended to provide sufficient classroom space for the projected number of total students and total common branch classroom sections needed in the school to accommodate this enrollment for the 2019-20 school year.  

A rezoning plan to create additional permanent space for STEM labs and small group instruction spaces would have to move a significant number of current K-5 students and move the CTAEP program. To move such a large amount of students next year to establish improved spaces for these programs, as well as sufficient classrooms for future students, would disrupt current families and potentially result in some staff transfers of Bell Top staff to other schools. The district is seeking to avoid this and make marginal changes. However, a plan that involves further zone changes may be needed in the future given the residential and commercial property development in North Greenbush.

Q: Is the long term plan for Bell Top to have two sections of each grade level?
A: There is no plan to maintain Bell Top as solely a double graded school. The number of sections is based on enrollment, budgetary determinations and the number of available classroom spaces. These issues are examined for each individual school but also on a district-wide basis.

Q: What will happen with teachers who are teaching one of the current 3 section grade levels?
A: In the event that enrollment changes or financials require a reduction of a section of a grade level within any school, staff is reassigned in accordance with the contract with the EGTA to an available vacancy within their certification and tenure area. Vacant positions are often created due to a retirement. In the event that no such position is available, the staff member is reduced in force.

Q: Do you think the EGCSD has been diligent in informing residents of the boundary proposal?  
A: We have communicated the proposal in the following ways: email sent to all parents of current Bell Top, Genet and Red Mill students on Wednesday, December 19; personally called the small number of families who would be impacted by this change for next year; news story posted on district website on Tuesday, December 19; FAQ posted on district website on Thursday, January 3; sent out in district’s E-News on Friday, December 21; submitted to The Advertiser on Wednesday, December 19; press release sent to local news and published in the Times Union (December 21), Troy Record (December 24) and News10 (January 4); information shared on district Facebook and Twitter accounts; and the district is hosting three community meetings for staff, parents and community members this month.

Q: Will the proposed plan require the district to purchase additional school buses or hire additional bus drivers?
A: Under the current proposal, we do not anticipate the need to purchase additional buses or the hiring of additional bus drivers.

Q: How will the changes to bus routes impact the amount of time students ride the bus to and from school?
A: The Transportation Department anticipates only minor adjustments to the current bus routes which are evaluated each summer and updated as needed. The bus routes under the current proposed plan are not expected to go above the standard 30-40 minute trip time.

Q: Will there be any consideration for parents who lobby to have their children stay at Bell Top even if they are in the affected areas?
A: This is not a consideration at this time as no current students would be required to move to a different school. This proposed plan would move a small number of incoming kindergartners who do not have older siblings in Bell Top. Each of those students’ families have been notified of the proposed changes.