School consolidation raises concerns among officials

NORTH WARREN - Local school administrators expressed concerns this week over a state commission proposal to consolidate school districts with less than 1,000 students. Most all schools in Northern Warren County fall under this arbitrary 1,000 student threshold.

The consolidation concept was recently suggested by the state Commission on Property Tax Relief which cited savings to taxpayers and improved education.

Area politicians and school administrators, however, see the issue in a different light.

"From my understanding of the issue, the proposal is still in the conceptual phase," North Warren Superintendent Joseph Murphy said Wednesday. "The potential effect on efficiency would of course depend on how they decide to operate it."

The proposal may be another attempt by Gov. Paterson and his administration to reduce costs as a reaction to the looming state budgetary deficit, area school officials said.

"The good of the student body, the teachers and the communities are the most important factors," Murphy said. "The present decision-making process focuses primarily on money, often to the detriment of the curriculum."

Warrensburg Superintendent Timothy Lawson said a total consolidation of districts, with students and faculty moving into a centralized location, would not be reasonable in a region with such low population density as is the case in the Adirondacks.

"The total square mileage of a consolidated district becomes so large and creates unsafe conditions for the students on long daily bus rides," Lawson said. "I can see it being effective downstate where schools are geographically closer, but up here it would pose a real problem."

State Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) has recognized the problems with consolidation, noting that some students would spend up to two hours on routine bus rides if they attended a centralized school.

Lawson and Murphy both said consolidation of school boards and administrative bodies might reduce costs without negatively affecting the student experience. This method has been implemented in Vermont for several years, Lawson said.

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