UPDATED 7:15 p.m. with comments.
A top ranking State Education Department (SED) official refused to consider the Clarkstown School District’s appeal for state aid because the district has excess classrooms. Carl Thurnau, director of SED’s Office of Facilities Planning, told district officials and board members Monday night that the school system has more than 60 excess classrooms according to state calculations.
The district applied for state funding equal to 51 percent of the $6.5 million cost to repair Congers Elementary, which was closed in August. After SED rejected the application in early January, state legislators intervened to organize a meeting.
School Superintendent Dr. J. Thomas Morton said Thurnau was adamant that the district was not eligible for aid. Thurnau explained state statutes count only interchangeable classrooms where students are taught a variety of subjects. It does not include in that number rooms used for computer, language or music labs or gym.
The state calculated that the district has about 80 excess classrooms. Board members disputed that and said the district has seven or eight unused classrooms. State regulations permit 23 students in kindergarten through second grade classes and 27 students in third through fifth grade classes. The district’s classes are smaller than those sizes.
Thurnau gave Morton a letter with the state’s position.
“(It’s) basically saying we have two close two other (schools) if we want to keep Congers online,” said Morton. “That’s pretty straightforward what he said.”
Thurnau’s letter described the district’s options.
“The Department recommends that the district conduct a demographics and space analysis to inform how to utilize existing space in the most efficient manner. If the district determines that Congers should remain a viable instructional facility in the future, renovations could be eligible for aid if other schools were taken off line to align enrollment with available space.”
School Board President Mike Aglialoro and board members Joe Malgieri and Chris Conti attended the two-hour-long meeting. Aglialoro said Thurnau's response was disappointing to hear but if the bond passes, the board will take further action and decide how to appeal.
A public vote on a $6.5 million bond for the repair of Congers Elementary will be held from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 4. As of Monday, more than 140 applications for absentee ballots had been submitted.
Editor's Note: The letter is attached to the article and is online at the district's website.