The ‘walk for choice’

Greenwood Lake-Tuxedo communities rally to show their support for a three-school choice option


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Photos



  • Photo by Ed Bailey Dean Stanton, 15, voices his opinion and shows his shirt and jacket from Tuxedo High School at Wednesday's Greenwood Lake School Board meeting.




  • Photo by Ed Bailey Students stand at the entrance of the elementary school with their signs.




  • Photo by Ed Bailey Resident Don Santarpia gives a passionate speech during Wednesday evening's school board meeting in Greenwood Lake.




  • Photo by Ed Bailey George F. Baker High School students arrive at the Greenwood Lake Elementary School prior to Wednesday evening's school board meeting.




  • Photo by Ed Bailey Carolyn McAteer reads the petition at Wednesday's school board meeting, asking the Greenwood Lake Board of Education to reconsider its decision about parental choice and include Tuxedo with Chester and Warwick. On McAteer's left is Lena Buckley.




  • Photo by Ed Bailey Tuxedo students hold their signs at the back door of the Greenwood Lake Elementary School waiting to be let into Wednesday's school board meeting.




  • Photos by Ed Bailey Alissa Spear stands with her two daughters, Annabel, left, 4 years old, and Madison Spear, 6. Their signs express their concerns and where they stand.



— In a show of solidarity for having a three school choice option, close to 400 people walked in a silent “walk for choice” to the Greenwood Lake Board of Education’s meeting on Wednesday night, presenting the board with a petition with 647 signatures requesting George F. Baker High School in Tuxedo be part of the choice option for its high schoolers.

They walked to protest that Tuxedo was left out of the choice option after they were led to believe the school would be part of that choice.

In August, the board picked only Warwick Valley High School and the Chester Academy as options for its high schoolers, as Greenwood Lake has no high school of its own.

Those participants are part of the growing community group called “Campaign to Remain,” who believe their opinions were ignored by the board, noting they’ve pleaded with officials to make sure Tuxedo was part of the choice option.

Walkers gathered at in the CVS parking lot on Windermere Avenue at 5 p.m. with signs calling for the reinstatement of the Tuxedo school as one of three choices for Greenwood Lake School District families. They proceeded to the Greenwood Lake Elementary School, where the board meeting was held.

Request to modify

Their intent, according to organizer Carolyn McAteer, was to have the board accept the petition noting residents’ request, and give serious thought to modifying the August vote.
They feel, McAteer noted, that a precedent for reviewing and modifying past decisions was already put into place when the board rescinded its spring vote initially naming Tuxedo as the school where Greenwood Lake students would attend. Students have attended Baker high for the last 31 years.
But district officials have repeatedly said the differences in tuition rates of the three schools were enough that Tuxedo could not be considered an option unless it could offer a tuition rate competitive with Chester and Warwick.
In recent days, the Tuxedo School District lowered its rate from $13,900 to $13,000 in an effort to be further competitive, which District Superintendent Carol Lomascolo said was in response to requests from the Greenwood Lake community.
“We received an overwhelming response from the Greenwood Lake community asking us to look at the numbers and in support of us,” she said. “They are passionate about this school.”
Passion aside, Greenwood Lake officials said finances have to come first.
“(Wednesday’s meeting) was repetitive comments they been making all along,” said Greenwood Lake School District Superintendent Dr. Richard Brockel “The board listened. But when we have offers to go places at $8,000 or $9,500, we shouldn’t be going any place where it’s $13,000 per student. The board and administration have to look at the best educational opportunity at the least cost to taxpayers.”
He added: “The people who are emotionally involved with Baker and the Tuxedo School District, don’t really address that the tuition proposal is so wrong. I think they realize they need to address the other board, not ours. Go to the Tuxedo board meeting and pressure their board as they have been pressuring us to move. We’d be happy to include them, but it has to be at a reasonable cost to taxpayers. Our board knew they can’t match Warwick at $8,000 but certainly they should be able to come down to something more in line with Chester. We need them to approach $10,500. That’s our firm number at this point, yes, however if they’re going to come in with something else we would sit with our board and we’d have to discuss that.”

Tuxedo BOE to meet

Chester’s tuition rate is $9,500 and Warwick’s is $8,000. Those figures are for all students and would bill special education at cost, with a two percent escalator in Year 2 if a 22 model is implemented.
Organizers planned to attend the Tuxedo Board of Education’s meeting Thursday night, requesting to that board that it look at how it could further lower the tuition rate.
At that meeting, Lomascolo planned to show how reducing tuition further would damage the “program’s integrity,” she said.
“What the Greenwood Lake board said was ‘Tear down this program and build it bare bones from scratch and build a new one,’” said Lomascolo. “That’s what they’re telling us but their community is rallying for this program. They’re not rallying for a different program, they’re rallying for ours.”
Lomascolo added Tuxedo is prepared to make cuts.
“Obviously, we’re looking at cuts, we understand there will be less sections and options, we’re trying to stay with AP classes and offerings,” she added. “With a $13,000 tuition, we know we’re going for a tax increase and I’m guessing we’re losing $800,000 with those cuts and that’s assuming we lose only 50 students. That’s huge for this school.”
Lomascolo planned to present numbers to show how scaled back the Baker program would be if it went with the rate desired by Greenwood Lake.
“What I want to share with the community is the numbers the Greenwood Lake board is asking us to cut, with a cut,” she added. “When they hear that, they probably wouldn’t want to be here. The program would not be like anything they are fighting for. We want a good program here and we’ve always said we would do what can with the tuition but the integrity of our program is very important to us.”

‘Last hurrah’

Group organizers said they understand the financial challenges of both districts, but they hoped that volume of people who came out to Wednesday’s meeting would show both districts they have come up with a solution to keep Tuxedo in the mix.
“Time is definitely of the essence, we definitely walked away from that,” said McAteer. “I hope he (Brockel) got an understanding of just how many people are unhappy. In my heart I knew that $13,000 wasn’t going to be enough. It’s just a matter of them (both boards) working together. Our walk opened the door for further negotiations that otherwise might not have taken place. The boards were genuine in what they were saying. The walk was all worth the time and effort. I think both boards will work to the best of their ability, as this is the last hurrah.”



By Nancy Kriz



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