School Board Motions to Close Two Syracuse City Schools

Including One on Syracuse’s South Side

In an emotional meeting where tempers rose and tears fell, the school board passed a motion on Jan. 21 to close two SCSD schools – including one on the South Side, in a move that Superintendent Daniel Lowengard says will best save the district $3 million dollars and allow swing space for two other district schools to start renovations.

The closings of Elmwood Elementary School, on the city’s South Side, and Bellevue Middle School Academy, in the Near West Side, won’t take place until the end of the current school year. By a narrow 4-3 majority, the board, which met at the at SCSD’s Central Offices, accepted Lowengard’s proposal to shutter the schools to save the district $3 million dollars in an attempt to curb its $50 million deficit, and to provide swing space for renovations of two other schools – H.W. Smith K-8 and Dr. Weeks Elementary School – both located on the East Side of Syracuse.

When Lowengard gaveled the one-hour meeting to a close, students and parents from both Bellevue and Elmwood embraced in tears, while others talked to each other about the issue “not being over.” One woman grabbed her coat in tears and hurried out of the room.

Board member Monique Wright-Williams, who voted against the motion, said as an African-American, she opposed the plan to close Bellevue and Elmwood telling the board that “this would not be done to families on the East Side of Syracuse.”

School Board President Richard Strong, fought back tears as he explained his position in favor of the closings, saying that no option was a good option. He said keeping the two schools open would further the delay of renovations promised to other schools in the district and that it is time to move forward.

“We have delayed and delayed, and there is no more time to stop construction. It’s not an acceptable alternative,” Strong said.

Several board members said that with past school closings, the communities were given more notice, but that had not happened this time. Board member Calvin Corriders voted against the closings because he felt the board did not give the community enough time.

Board member Laurie Mackie agreed that it was unfair to upset families, but assured that the bonds between the community and its school can be carried elsewhere. “A school is not a building,” Mackie said, who voted for the closings. “It’s teacher relationships and family support, and I hope that the students take this with them and go to another building. You are still Bellevue and Elmwood students.”

Thomas Ferrara, SCSD director of facilities, said that while closing the schools are a difficult decision, some of the schools in the district haven’t been renovated in 60 years, and those changes need to be done.

Ferrara predicted that about 15 percent of SCSD jobs would be cut in order to account for the other $47 million that needs to be saved in the budget. Employees from custodians to school psychologists will have to be let go in addition to making a few cuts to school programs.

With tears in his eyes, Lowengard stood in front of a camera crew defending the Board’s decision. “This is very hard for board members,” Lowengard said. “We have to make the best of difficult choices.”