Sweet Home School Board members will vote tonight whether to close Heritage Heights Elementary School.
Administrators hope the closure will produce savings and allow the district to expand programs in the remaining schools, but some parents and teachers believe the district is moving too fast to shut down Heritage Heights since Superintendent Anthony J. Day recommended its closure in January.
“All I want the board to do is actually look at the other options available,” said Brian Carter, a district parent whose students previously attended Heritage Heights.
Like other school districts in Western New York, Sweet Home’s enrollment has been steadily declining since the mid-1990s, and the superintendent has said the district can consolidate the four elementary schools into three buildings while still maintaining average elementary school class sizes of about 20 students.
About 10 to 12 employees – including clerical and other support positions – would be cut in the closure, and the district would look for a tenant for the Heritage Heights building on Sweet Home Road, if the board approves the closure plan.
Day has told School Board members that the proposal would allow the district to reassign teachers to other areas, including reading and math intervention and enrichment programs.
School Board President Scott M. Johnson said the decision is not just about saving the district money.
“It’s more about the effective utilization of our staff and balancing class sizes,” Johnson said.
But parents and teachers who have spoken out against the proposal have raised questions about the impact on all elementary school students in the district, the future of the Heritage Heights building and the timing of the decision to recommend its closure.
The district has a fund balance it expects to begin to spend down and is not facing the type of budget gap for next school year that other school districts anticipate.
“We are not in financial crisis,” said Amy Battaglia, president of the Parent Teacher Association. “For me, if it’s not a financial decision right now, then what is the real reason we’re doing this?”
It is not clear what decision the seven-member board will take when it meets Tuesday night. Some, but not all, of the board members have publicly expressed their support or opposition to the proposal to close Heritage Heights. A public meeting in February to discuss the proposal to close Heritage Heights drew dozens of parents and teachers that opposed the plan.
Day said during a public meeting earlier this month that the school district could move forward without closing Heritage Heights and would face only “small gaps” that would have to be addressed in the budget. He described that as a missed opportunity to reassign teachers to areas to boost student support.
“It likely would be manageable,” Day said in a video recording of the meeting, “but we wouldn’t be able to enhance the program in any fashion.”
The vote is scheduled during a Board of Education meeting at 7 tonight in the Norman C. Vergils Community Center, 1901 Sweet Home Road.