Phoenicia School closing possible

By Jay Braman Jr.
If the Onteora School District decides to close an elementary school it will be Phoenicia Elementary, not Bennett Elementary or Woodstock Elementary, and it could happen this year.
And if it happens, students living in the Pine Hill/Highmount area could be traveling all the way to Woodstock.

That decision was made last week by the District Superintendent Phyllis McGill.

Until this announcement, McGill and the school board would only say that closing one school is an option as they try to find cost cutting measures, but had yet to decide which school it would be.
After months of research, the district had prepared three proposals to save money and also address the issues of declining enrollment.

Only one of those three plans called for keeping all three elementary schools open. The other two, until now, called for closing one school.

In her letter, McGill makes it clear that it would indeed be Phoenicia.

“A second mode… would make Woodstock Elementary School the only primary school, and Bennett would be the only intermediate school,” she wrote. “This model would have all of the advantages stated above, but would result in a larger primary school and the loss of a local community elementary school (Phoenicia); also some primary students would need to travel from the far western part of the district to attend Woodstock.”

This plan would save about $3 million a year for the district, which has an operating budget of over $50 million.

The other school closing option would save only $2 million and would make both Bennett and Woodstock the only K-6 schools.

“Students from Phoenicia would be reassigned to Bennett and Woodstock, depending on the location of their residence; some Bennett children may also need to attend Woodstock,” McGill wrote. “… This model would probably be easiest to implement, however, it would be mostly a financial decision as it would not contribute to enhancing the educational program.”
On Tuesday McGill said her choice was made primarily because Phoenicia is a far smaller facility than Woodstock or Bennet.

Information supplied by the superintendent shows that Phoenicia is a facility that is just under 30,000 square feet with 17 classrooms and four spaces for offices. In contrast Woodstock and Bennet have 43,800 and 47,439 square feet, respectively, and many more classrooms and office spaces.