CAMDEN — It will be up to the community and Board of Education to decide whether the Camden Central School District will lose an elementary school in the 2013-14 school year.
A year ago the district contracted with Madison-Oneida BOCES and worked with consultant Dr. Paul M. Seversky on a study to explore cost-effective options on reorganizing the district’s kindergarten through eighth grade program.
Dr. Jeffrey K. Bryant, superintendent, said he realized while drafting his first budget a few years ago that the state economy and the district’s finances would force Camden to come up with a long-term viability plan.
Since the 2008-09 school year, state foundation aid has remained flat at about $21.8 million while expenditures have risen each year, Bryant said. The state’s new 2 percent property tax cap and the loss of federal stimulus have forced the district to begin using its steadily-decreasing fund balance.
"We have enough in our fund balance (now) to get us through the next three years, but that’s it," he said.
Since 2009, Camden has eliminated 20 teachers, five teachers’ aides, an administrator and secretary among other positions. District enrollment has also dropped, from 2,593 in 2006-07 to an estimated 2,200 for the 2012-13 school year.
"The goal was to be ahead of it and not wait until the district was in crisis," Bryant said of the study.
The district had already considered the options of annexing or consolidating with another area school district, but for Camden, that would not be feasible due to the large geographic area that it serves, Bryant said. Geographically, Camden is the second largest district in the state, serving 295.65 square miles.
Programming-wise, "it would make sense for us" to consolidate, Bryant said. "But it just can’t be managed" due to the volume of students already bused in the district.
The Board of Education is looking for about 40 volunteers from the community to serve on its Efficiency Study Focus Group, which will meet only once, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8 at the high school cafeteria. At the meeting, the volunteers will listen to ideas and perceptions of the community about the findings of the program implementation/facility use study.
Seversky made eight recommendations to the district, which ranged from continuing with operations as is to closing North Bay Elementary or a combination of North Bay and Annsville schools.
Bryant said it will be up to the community group to narrow the district’s options as the Board of Education moves forward on the decision.
"The purpose of the group is to narrow the field of options from eight to no more than three suggestions to the board," Bryant said.
The goal is for the board to make its final decision in November just prior to the start of budget talks for the 2013-14 school year, Bryant added. Board of Education members will also host community forums in September at each elementary school so they can listen to parents’ concerns before a final decision is made.
Work on the district’s six schools and Administration Building and parking lot continued this summer as part of an $11.5 million construction project, part of Camden Central School District’s renovations plan. Renovations included the parking lot and bus passes, and roof replacement at Camden Elementary; and roofs and some doors were replaced at Annsville, McConnellsville and North Bay.
All work at the elementary schools combined was about $2 million, the superintendent said, and all were state "aidable." "Even if we decide to sell a building, we’re receiving aid, so it’s not like we’re throwing money away," Bryant said. Copies of the Kindergarten through Grade Eight Program Delivery Study are available at the district office and online at www.camdenschools.org/district.cfm