Tuxedo is the one

Greenwood Lake board chooses George F. Baker High School; residents to vote June 19 on recommendation

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TUXEDO — And the choice is: The Tuxedo School District.

By a 4-3 vote on April 25, the Greenwood Lake Board of Education selected George F. Baker High School in Tuxedo as its high school option for its students for the next five years versus selecting the high school in either the Warwick Valley or Chester school districts.

Board members voted in favor of negotiating a new, five-year contract with the district during the public forum held that evening. And they voted down, by a 3-4 margin, a proposed resolution allowing parents to decide which of those three high schools to send their children.

But the final decision now rests with Greenwood Lake residents, who will vote either yes or no on June 19. If they reject the board’s recommendation, follow-up possibilities include the Greenwood Lake board putting up a different resolution before voters, or vote for a one-year contract.

Decision comes earlier than expected

Greenwood Lake School District Superintendent Richard Brockel said the board made the decision to take the vote last week for several reasons.

First, he explained, the board felt strongly that its current seven member board composition spent a great deal of time researching and reviewing the high school option issue and wanted to make that recommendation to the public prior to the May 15 school budget/Board of Education member election.

Board members wanted to complete that process while current members still have their seats. There are six candidates running for three seats, he said, and it’s not known what the new board make-up would be after May 15.

Equally important, he said, was the required 45-day lead time to schedule an election before the end of this school year. With the April 25 vote, that 45-day lead time brings the public voting day to June 19, or one day before the end of the school year in Greenwood Lake.

“The board’s decision about staying in Tuxedo was based on an analysis of the education programs; the tuition costs which will be less than next year’s tuition for the duration of the whole, new five year contract; tradition; familiarity and the fact that Greenwood Lake students make up an 80 percent majority (at Baker),” said Brockel. “I believe that’s everything they looked at.”

Community sentiment
Brockel knows the board’s nearly divided decision mirrors community sentiment.

“The board, as elected officials, reflects the community,” he added. “I think this shows the community may be split as well.”

Brockel wanted to stress to Greenwood Lake voters the differentiation between the May 15 and June 19 voting opportunities.

“I don’t want the citizens of Greenwood Lake to be influenced by their feelings (when voting on May 15) because they might be angry about the board’s decision on the high school,” he said. “This budget is for the children and the teachers and really has nothing to do with the board’s choice of a high school option. The citizens can exercise their option on the high school option when they vote on June 19.”

Good news
Understandably, Tuxedo officials were pleased with the vote.

“This is very good news,” said Tuxedo School Superintendent Carol Lomascolo. “It’s a first step; we’re not done yet. But I am very optimistic.”

Lomascolo was at the forum and witnessed a variety of feelings from those in attendance.

“You could tell, from a Greenwood Lake standpoint, some people were very excited and some were upset and I understand that,” she said. “But I feel they understand the value of a small school. It’s their (Greenwood Lake’s) school; it’s their program. I think they recognize that. Any school district builds its program around the needs of their students and we have. We’ve been honest and truthful.”

Greenwood Lake students have attended Baker high for the past 30 years and prior to that time they attended Monroe-Woodbury High School.

Yet, within the fourth year of a five year contract with Tuxedo to be completed in June, the Greenwood Lake board wanted to look at a variety of high school options available to them - in addition to the incumbent Tuxedo district - which included Monroe-Woodbury (which bowed out of the competition early in the process), and the Warwick Valley and Chester school districts.

High school students must travel to a different district since New York State will not allow the district to build its own high school.

Public meetings were held over the past months where officials gave presentations touting the merits of what their high schools could provide to Greenwood Lake students.

Mid-size vs. small school
Warwick Superintendent of School Dr. Raymond Bryant had said the mid-sized high school could offer Greenwood Lake students many benefits that smaller schools like Tuxedo and Chester can’t.

He previously said there has always been an interest in having Greenwood Lake students - most of whom live in the Town of Warwick - attend school in their own town, even though Warwick voters turned down having those students attend the high school almost five years ago. Bryant had said having Greenwood Lake students attend would be a good revenue opportunity for the district, adding the district had the student transition experience to handle accepting students based on its success dealing with the closing of Pine Island Elementary.

And Warwick officials were disappointed with the Greenwood Lake board’s decision.

“I respect the right of voters to decide this issue but think the board missed out on an opportunity to do what it was elected to do – make the best academic and fiscally responsible decisions for students and taxpayers,” Warwick Valley Board of Education President David Eaton wrote in a letter to The Warwick Advertiser, the sister paper to The Photo News. “If you look at the comparables – tuition, academic program, specialized courses, extracurricular activities, graduation rates and percentage of students with post-secondary plans – Warwick would have been a superior choice.”

Chester School District Superintendent Sean Michel previously said having Greenwood Lake students come to Chester was a revenue opportunity at a time when there wasn’t going to be an influx of students in his district which, like others, also had to deal with revenue losses.

The Greenwood Lake School District even posted academic, athletic and extracurricular comparisons of all three districts on its Web site so residents could get a good feel of what each school offers.

‘Believe this is the best choice’

With 300 of its 380 students coming from Greenwood Lake, Tuxedo was keenly aware its high school viability would be at stake if it were not to be selected.

Lomascolo said the district was eager to work with Greenwood Lake to find new consolidation opportunities while stressing she understood the fiscal responsibilities Tuxedo has to both Greenwood Lake and Tuxedo taxpayers.

“This is a different leadership (in Tuxedo), and we want to work collaboratively,” said Lomascolo. “Anything they’ve asked for, we’ve abided by. I’m really trying to prove that we’re different. And, we believe this is the best choice.”

By Nancy Kriz

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