GWL BOE mulls 'parental choice'
Greenwood Lake School Board to review Tuxedo’s tuition rate as it ponders a parental choice option versus ‘all Warwick’ or ‘all Chester’ choice
Eighty percent of the students who attend George F. Baker High School in Tuxedo are from Greenwood Lake. “Everybody’s just looking at the dollars, and I understand that in this fiscal climate, but there is strength in a small school district,” said Tuxedo School Superintendent Carol Lomascolo. “We know our students and our families and that includes Greenwood Lake and Tuxedo families. That’s one of the strengths you’ll see in small district and I don’t think you can put dollars on that.”
Chester Academy: “We have looked at this as a great opportunity for us in particular because we have a declining enrollment,” said Chester School Superintendent Sean Michel. “The more students we can bring in, the better off we will be for our programs in our high school. For us, it’s about offering as many options and programs for our students as possible. We need the students in order to do that. And this will help in our long-term planning."
Warwick Valley High School: "Greenwood Lake is part of Warwick," said Warwick Valley School Superintendent Dr. Ray Bryant. "Right now, kids from Greenwood Lake and Warwick are together for eight years for Little League, cheerleading, football and soccer in town-wide programs, and then go their separate ways during high school. Why not stay together, instead, throughout high school?"
TUXEDO — The early stages of the fate of George F. Baker High School in Tuxedo will begin to play themselves out next week, when the Greenwood Lake Board of Education reviews the tuition rate from Tuxedo School District officials for the district’s possible inclusion in the parental choice option it is considering.
Greenwood Lake officials have requested the final tuition rate per student from their Tuxedo counterparts for their July 11 meeting as they continue their renewed due diligence of where to send their high school students now that an earlier spring vote to send their students to Tuxedo was rescinded.
Greenwood Lake students have attended Baker high for the last 30 years since the district does not have its own high school.
And every five years, negotiations take place to see what tuition the Greenwood Lake district will pay. During this most recent contract period, the New York State Department of Education confirmed it will not allow Greenwood Lake to build its own high school.
Mix and match
But this time, the Warwick and Chester school districts indicated they are eager to have those students attend their schools. Now the options before the Greenwood Lake board include an all-Warwick choice, an all-Chester choice, or a choice option where parents could choose any of the three schools, assuming the board finds the Tuxedo tuition reasonable enough to be in the mix.
At a time where all districts are grappling with their respective budget woes, the two percent tax cap and other financial challenges, the possible tuition they could receive for those students is a revenue opportunity which can assist in the maintenance or enhancement of their existing academic, sports or co-curricular programs.
However, the loss of those Greenwood Lake students and the tuition that comes with their attendance at Baker high threatens the viability of that school, which is among the smallest in the area. Eighty percent of its student body are Greenwood Lake residents.
“We just went through all the projections for five years, considering every possibility (of school districts), including the parental choice option,” said Greenwood Lake School Superintendent Dr. Richard Brockel. “That may be where we’re headed. The board hasn’t really made a decision on that or the single choice option. Until we get the Tuxedo number, we don’t know if parental choice will be the way to go.”
Tradition vs. finances
The initial wooing process began months ago and for a very short time included the Monroe-Woodbury and Florida school districts. Brockel said the decision would initially impact incoming ninth-graders, allowing those at Baker to stay where they are and complete their high school careers.
While Brockel understands the history of tradition and academic excellence with Tuxedo, he also knows finances are a significant issue as well.
“I think money always has to be a consideration,” he said. “We can’t subtract from the ‘K’ students to pay for the high school students. There’s been a history over many years, every time the five year renewal comes up, to look at other options that are more financially viable. The difference is that we have two other districts interested in us and that wasn’t the case before.”
Brockel said the tuition rates previously and publicly stated by the Chester and Warwick school districts will continue to apply if there is parental choice.
“Warwick’s tuition is $8,000 and Chester’s is $ 9,500 and they will stay with that no matter what option the board chooses,” added Brockel.
But it’s a different scenario for Tuxedo.
“Tuxedo let us know the $12,500 (tuition rate per student) they stated publicly would be tuition would not apply in a parental choice option,” said Brockel. “That figure (according to Tuxedo officials) is only okay if they (Tuxedo) have all of our students. They have told us they will be coming up with a higher tuition if we go to parental choice.”
He understands the financial impact to all districts, including his.
“Even if Tuxedo loses one … every student that leaves there, they have to subtract money from their budget,” said Brockel. “Everyone who goes to Warwick or Chester, that adds money to their budget. Our board will decide if we feel that tuition is too high in order to include them. Our board will deliberate based on that. If Tuxedo wants to be a player in this thing, they will have to come in with a tuition that is not too high.”
Tuxedo School Superintendent Carol Lomascolo said the tuition rate Tuxedo offered was already a reduced rate from what Greenwood Lake currently pays, and is the lowest tuition rate in the last five years.
“$12,500 is lowest we could do,” she said. “We did those calculations based on the number of students coming in. We knew we would be going over the two percent (cap). We looked at many scenarios for tuition with the understanding that Greenwood Lake would be coming here.”
Now that Greenwood Lake won’t be sending 100 percent of its high schoolers to Tuxedo, Lomascolo said she has to review her numbers.
“If they are sending to us less than that number (all Greenwood Lake students), we would have to relook that tuition,” she added. “That threshold would have to change. We are working on tuition to give to him, we have told him it would not be Seneca Falls, and I think all along we tried to be realistic and fair to both communities and balance the impact on both communities. If we change our tuition, we have to then cut our programs significantly and we don’t want to do that.”
She added: “To cut that amount, to reduce that far, is thousands of dollars per student. Our revenue sources are school taxes and Greenwood Lake tuition. Our state aid is minimal because we are considered a wealthy district, from a New York State standpoint.”
She strongly felt that the Tuxedo high school’s academic reputation carries a tremendous amount of weight with the Greenwood Lake community and must be taken into account as part of the decision making.
“We have to pick our tuition based on what we think is fair and what we feel we can sell to our community,” said Lomascolo. “We are hopeful to be one of the schools in the choice option. I believe most of the students want to come here. I think the community, the parents who have students in this district, want their students here, the majority of them do.”
She also was unwavering in her belief about the merits of a small school environment.
“Everybody’s just looking at the dollars, and I understand that in this fiscal climate, but there is strength in a small school district,” she added. “We know our students and our families and that includes Greenwood Lake and Tuxedo families. That’s one of the strengths you’ll see in small district and I don’t think you can put dollars on that.”
Yet, Lomascolo knows there are some who want other options.
“Most of the people who are here are very happy with our program but there are people who want to consider Warwick or Chester,” she said. “They want to have that choice.”
Lomascolo declined to discuss any planning the district is doing should Tuxedo not be part of the choice option, adding “it’s too early and we need our community input as well. We don’t have enough information just yet to go public. But we are considering all our options to keep the high school open and that includes having Greenwood Lake in the mix.”
Brockel felt the community respected Tuxedo’s academic history but now also needs to look at finances as well.
“Parents in the community have enjoyed the relationships and kids have done well,” he said. “If you compare the quality of education, the quality is good in all three districts. There’s not only the history, it’s also the economy the way it is now. It’s made everyone focus a little bit more on the issue. The atmosphere in the community is certainly better than it was than when Tuxedo was chosen. There was a sigh of relief when we rescinded the vote.”
Brockel cautioned nothing is finalized yet.
“It is somewhat of a competition between those high schools for those kids,” he said. “It’s still playing itself all out. We’re doing our due diligence on this one, whether it’s ‘all Warwick,’ or ‘all Chester’ or combination of three or two.”
And because nothing is finalized yet, Lomascolo remains optimistic that Tuxedo will be included in the choice option.
“I hope the community of Greenwood Lake is showing its support of Tuxedo,” she added. “I hope they are. The reality is that our program carries a lot of academic weight. But the other reality is we’re talking about dollars and we can’t match them. ”
By Nancy Kriz
To learn more:
The Chester perspective:
Contact the district offices at 469-5052.
The Greenwood Lake perspective:
The Tuxedo perspective:
The Warwick perspective:
Chester sees GWL students as ‘a great opportunity’
CHESTER — As one of the three school districts in the mix, Chester School District Superintendent Sean Michel is eager to learn the outcome of the Greenwood Lake Board of Education’s decision on whether it will go with a one high school choice or allow parents to make the decision on where to send their children.
“We have looked at this as a great opportunity for us in particular because we have a declining enrollment,” said Michel. “The more students we can bring in, the better off we will be for our programs in our high school. For us, it’s about offering as many options and programs for our students as possible. We need the students in order to do that. And this will help in our long-term planning. ”
Smaller elementary school classes are on the horizon in the next three years in the Chester district, which means the high school will eventually see a smaller enrollment.
“Looking at moving classes forward, we have a flat/stable enrollment to 2016 and then it drops off at that point,” said Michel. “In 2014-2015, we’ll have 351 students. In 2015-2016, we’ll start to see decline, with 325 students. In 2018-2019, we’ll have 270 ... a huge drop.”
Michel is confident that Chester can offer Greenwood Lake students an outstanding educational opportunity.
“We offer an excellent program for students and also a small environment, which is what Greenwood Lake students are used to,” he said. “We allow our students to be involved in everything.”
For the time being, Michel and the other superintendents have to patient.
“Right now we’re going to sit tight,” he added. “We don’t want to speculate, we want to see what the Greenwood Lake board does. They are going to do what’s best for their children and their community.”
- Nancy Kriz
Warwick feels having GWL students ‘just makes sense’
WARWICK — Like Chester schools chief Sean Michel, Warwick Valley School District Superintendent Dr. Raymond Bryant is equally interested in learning what the Greenwood Lake Board of Education decides.
But the one decision he’s stood firm about for months is that Warwick is the best place for Greenwood Lake students to attend.
“It’s our town,” he wrote in a statement to Straus News. “Greenwood Lake is part of Warwick. Right now, kids from Greenwood Lake and Warwick are together for eight years for Little League, cheerleading, football and soccer in town-wide programs, and then go their separate ways during high school. Why not stay together, instead, throughout high school? Also, Warwick and Greenwood Lake have similar tax bases, the Warwick Valley Chamber of Commerce includes Greenwood Lake, and we are both Appalachian Trail communities. To me, it just makes sense since we are all part of one town.”
Like Michel, he understands the Greenwood Lake board’s decision will be based on what it feels is in the best interest of its community and students.
And similar to Chester, the revenue generated would assist the district as it addresses comparable declining enrollment issues.
“Any potential revenue would not go to the sports or co-curricular activities programs in Warwick,” he wrote. “It would help stabilize curriculum offerings at Warwick Valley High School during challenging times in our state’s public education system. It would help to ensure continued academic excellence for our high school students - despite declining enrollment and stagnant state aid.”
The district has mailed to Greenwood Lake parents a newsletter touting the merits of Warwick Valley High School.
“I can’t speak for parents,” Bryant wrote in the statement. “I can only say that, from my perspective, the bottom line is that Warwick has the better price, more to offer, and seems the best option for both students and taxpayers.”
- Nancy Kriz
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