Binghamton school district reconsiders closing elementary school

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Parents and school staff at a recent Binghamton City School District board meeting applauded speakers who criticized the district's plan to permanently close an elementary school. (Megan Zerez/WSKG)

The Binghamton City School District is reconsidering a proposal to shutter one of the city’s seven elementary schools. After pushback by parents, the district is now considering renovating the aging schools and keeping them all open.

Amy Zieziula was one of about 30 people present at a Binghamton City School District Board of Education Meeting Tuesday.

“I’m going to speak on behalf a lot of parents that couldn’t come tonight; they said ‘Make sure they don’t close any of the schools,'” Zieziula said. “This is what we’ve been saying for months now.”

Zieziula’s children attend one of the four elementary schools the district has identified for potential closure — Horace Mann, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson Elementary schools.

The proposed closures are part of the district’s “feasibility study,” a long term plan to consolidate classes and reduce costs.

Like many school districts in Broome County, Binghamton City School District has seen a slow but steady decline in enrollment over the past five years. (Not all districts lost students; Chenango Valley and Vestal both saw modest gains.)

Enrollment in Binghamton City School District saw large drops in 2020 and 2021, but the decline predates the pandemic. State education data also shows the average class in the district has about 12 students, slightly below the state average of 15. 

Fewer students means less state and federal education funding.

The district cautioned that several schools will require major renovations if they remain open, including asbestos abatement.

Sidney Dement, a parent of students in the district, said he’s glad the district will now consider keeping all the schools open. He said he’s still not convinced that decommissioning a school is the best option.

“The reason we’re in this situation is that for decades, that community has been neglected,” Dement said. “So we need to rebuild. But you can’t just say we need to decommission a school in order to rebuild another one. There has to be a bit a better vision.”

The school that needs the most work is Theodore Roosevelt Elementary on Binghamton’s north side. It would cost $2.3 million in local funds to keep it open – nearly double what it would cost locally to renovate any of the other schools. The total cost to renovate Roosevelt is $45 million, but New York State would foot 95% of the bill.

State enrollment data shows Roosevelt serves some of the most disadvantaged students in the district and is also among the district’s lower performing schools. It also has the highest percentage of students of color among all of Binghamton’s elementary schools.

Board of Education President Brian Whalen said closing Roosevelt, while it would save the district the most, would negatively impact families who rely on the school to provide access to healthy meals.

“[The neighborhood] is already denoted as a as a food desert,” Whalen said. “And it would only remove another asset from that community.”

Whalen and other board members said they wanted to engage further with families before making a decision.

Parents have criticized the district for what they say is a lack of transparency and accessibility throughout the process, particularly for those who are unable to attend in person: Binghamton’s school board meetings are held solely in person; there is no streaming option.

The district did offer online streaming for a series of public forums last month, though there was limited opportunity for virtual attendees to ask questions and audio from the forums was largely unintelligible.

BCSD’s feasibility study also suggests other changes, like reconfiguring the city’s two middle schools to house 6th and 7th grades together at West Middle School and 8th and 9th grades at East. All of the district’s proposals and Feasibility Study materials online.

Binghamton’s school board said it will hold another round of in-person public forums across the city throughout September before making a final decision.