Debrief: Uncertainty remains as Binghamton delays decision on elementary school closure

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A parent addresses Binghamton's school board during a packed board meeting Tuesday night. (Megan Zerez/WSKG)

The following transcript has been edited for clarity. 

BRENT FOX, HOST: This is WSKG News, I’m Brent Fox. Binghamton’s School District has been considering closing one of its seven elementary schools for good. That discussion has gone on for nearly two years. Tuesday night, parents and teachers packed a school board meeting hoping to hear a final decision. Megan Zerez has been following the story and joins us now with some updates. Hello Megan.

MEGAN ZEREZ, REPORTER: Hi.

FOX: So let’s start with a bit of background. Why is the district looking to close an elementary school?

ZEREZ: Well, like many towns in this region, enrollment is down — especially after COVID-19 — and basically the district wants to keep costs down. They hired a consultant in March of last year, and the consultants conclusion was that it’s going to be most practical to close a school for good.

FOX: Has the district said which school they’re looking to close?

ZEREZ: Well, they haven’t committed to any one school, though they have listed out a couple schools that are on the chopping block. That’s definitely been a source of frustration for some parents and teachers and students who are looking to plan for their future.

One of the schools that they’re considering is Roosevelt Elementary School. That’s on Binghamton’s North side. Roosevelt has a lot of asbestos just throughout the building. And that makes any renovations way more expensive. So Roosevelt would certainly be the most fiscally responsible one to close.

But on the other hand, Roosevelt is also one of the most diverse, it serves a high proportion of low income students. And North side, of course, is a food desert. And the elementary school provides a lot of community resources to that area, like meals for kids, pediatricians visits through their on site health clinic there. So closing that school would mean that community could be losing a lot of important things.

FOX: And what exactly happened Tuesday night?

ZEREZ: Right. So the district previously said it might announce some sort of final decision at this meeting that happened Tuesday night. And so parents and teachers and even some students came out en masse to voice their opposition. Of course, school closures are always going to be unpopular. But this is the most people that I’ve seen at a Binghamton school board meeting in a long while. I mean, easily there were at least 200 people there in person or tuning in online.

FOX: So did they get any answers?

ZEREZ: Well, yes and no. All the board members basically agree they are opposed to closing Roosevelt. They said they’re going to try and rebuild it. But that requires a lot of buy in from Albany and also potentially from voters. And of course, we don’t know yet if they’re going to be able to secure that money, it’s going to be about $63 million.

FOX: Does that mean that school closure is totally off the table?

ZEREZ: No, not at all. Some school board members say even if they do get the money to rebuild, they’re still considering closing a different school. Several of them mentioned closing Woodrow Wilson elementary, which is in the first ward. It’s a lot smaller of a school and board members say, if enrollment did go up, they could much more easily reopen Wilson as an elementary school.

FOX: That does leave a lot to be determined.

ZEREZ: Yes. And you can definitely hear some of the confusion in the crowd and the board as school board president Brian Whalen tries to move on to another unrelated agenda item.

BRIAN WHALEN: Moving on to the next order of business.

AUDIENCE MURMURS.

KORIN KIRK: I think there’s a little bit of confusion I see in many faces. Could we just  get a little clarity on what we are deciding on?

ZEREZ: Whelan essentially said the board would temporary delay any potential closures until you know, it tries to petition to get that state money to rebuild Roosevelt. But he wouldn’t commit to a vote on that. And of course, after they make that petition, whether it’s successful or not, it seems like a school still could close. Again, this is not the first time the board has kicked the can down the road on this decision. So I think we’re definitely going to be having this conversation again.

FOX: And I’m looking forward to that.

ZEREZ: Thanks!

FOX: I’ve been talking with Megan Zerez. and this is WSKG News.

Watch the Nov. 15 school board meeting online here. You can also read more about the district’s plans here.