Board votes to keep Phoenicia School open

By Jay Braman Jr.
The Onteora School Board decided last week to keep the Phoenicia school open, but to only have students from kindergarten through third grade in the facility.

At a February 28 meeting at the high school in Boiceville, the board voted six to one in favor of what is known as “the Bookends Plan,” which keeps all three elementary schools open.

On the other end of the district, the other “bookend” school is Woodstock Elementary, which will have grades kindergarten through third grade just like Phoenicia.
In the middle of the district will be the Bennett Elementary School, which will now have only grades four through six.

Until now, all three schools were kindergarten through grade six.
For several months the school board has been struggling to find cost saving measures that would not only reduce spending but also maintain or enhance the level of education offered in the district.

Too many vacancies
With declining enrollment, the district had too much empty space in some schools and not enough in others. The district was also struggling with the two percent tax cap placed on school districts by the state, making it tougher to get the revenue needed to operate.

In the end, the Bookends Plan sends more students into the Phoenicia school from outside the Phoenicia District, from places like Boiceville and West Shokan, areas where many parents resisted the Bookends Plan because they wanted their children to attend the Bennett School in Boiceville.

Under the Bookends Plan, students in grades four through six who live in the western portion of the district, like in Pine Hill, Big Indian, Highmount and Oliverea, will have to travel to Boiceville to attend school instead of going to Phoenicia, as is currently the case. It’s expected that the bus ride would increase by 10 minutes or slightly less.

With the matter now decided, attention turns to getting things in order to prepare for the new configuration, slated to be in place in September.

“I want to thank the board of education for its due diligence by taking a very serious and thoughtful approach to a very challenging situation,” District Superintendent Phyllis McGill said after the meeting.” Throughout this process, the entire membership of the board stayed well informed of the issues and the implications of any and all decisions.”

Details to follow
In the coming weeks the details of the transition will be come known.
“I enthusiastically look forward to working with everyone to make this reconfiguration work for our students and our entire district,” McGill added.
“Please know that this will be done responsibly and with integrity. I promise that in the weeks to come I will appropriately involve others in decisions and share back as decisions are made.”