YORKTOWN, N.Y. – Residential development is booming in Yorktown.
More families, of course, mean more school-aged children entering the district, said Dr. Ron Hattar, superintendent of schools, at the Jan. 28 Board of Education meeting.
There, district administrators presented several options to handle this projected increase in enrollment, including the reopening of the French Hill Elementary School building.
Closed prior to the 2010-11 school year, the former elementary school‘s quarters have since been rented out to various businesses and non-profit groups. Each lease contains a clause that allows the district to take back the school in the event of increased enrollment, said Tom Cole, assistant superintendent for business.
Though it would solve capacity issues at the elementary school level, French Hill has been off-line so long that it would entail a “significant cost” to bring the school up to snuff, said Lisa O’Shea, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
Other options were being considered. They included moving fifth-grade students to the middle school; sorting students by grade rather than where they live (also known as the Princeton Model), or vice versa (K-5 “neighborhood schools”); or moving third-grade students to the Crompond School.
None of the options are ideal and all have drawbacks based on cost, educational or social/emotional aspects, Hattar told the school board. Some would extend bus rides, some would push certain schools to capacity and some would require expensive construction work.
“We stand before you with no clear answer,” Hattar said.
But, he said, “time is of the essence.”
By the 2022-23 school year, Hattar said, the district will be facing an average of 600 students per elementary school building.
“Right now, we’re at about 500 [students] roughly in each of the schools,” Hattar said, noting that the elementary school buildings are already near capacity. Crompond is at 89.5 percent; Brookside, 86 percent; and Mohansic, 84 percent.
Maxing out the capacity, he said, is not ideal because it would result in the loss of ESTEAM labs, science labs and other spaces that enhance education.
“We’re up against a time crunch here,” he added. “That’s a reality. It’s a year to get these things approved at [the State Education Department]. And then all of the work that goes into preparing for a bond.”
The gravity of the situation was not lost on school board members.
“This is not a couple-hundred-thousand-dollar proposition; this is millions of dollars,” said Trustee Peter Bisaccia. “If you look at the timing of this, we actually need something to go to vote during the budget.”
President Jackie Carbone said cost should be a secondary consideration, with education at the forefront of any decision.
“I think you should be telling us what’s best for kids first, and then we have to figure out how to make that work,” Carbone told Hattar.
At the end of the discussion, Hattar and the school board pared it down to a few options: reopening French Hill or building out its existing elementary school buildings.
Hattar directed the district’s Steering Committee to review these options and assign costs to them.