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Board votes to close Fowler Elementary

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GOUVERNEUR — The Board of Education decided Monday evening to close Fowler Elementary School at the end of this school year, a decision that drew harsh criticism from some parents.

The unanimous vote came after a handful of people urged the board to consider other alternatives. About 40 people attended the meeting, but only a few spoke.

David L. Spilman, former Fowler town supervisor, said the board should first make cuts in other parts of the budget, such as employee benefit expenses, before resorting to closing down an elementary school.

“Let’s make all the other cuts first. Make closing Fowler school the last thing you do,” Mr. Spilman said. “We want to maintain what we’ve got and we’ll fight for it.”

Following a brief public comment session, the board approved a resolution to close the school. There was no discussion among board members before the vote.

Fowler Elementary serves 116 pupils in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. The Gouverneur Central School District operates two other elementary schools, East Side Elementary and West Side Elementary in the village.

District officials estimate closing Fowler Elementary would save roughly $224,000 in the first year. The district has classroom space available in its other two elementary buildings and is trying to find ways to close a $1.15 million budget gap projected for next year.

Susan M. Fenlong sarcastically asked the board why they don’t just cram all the elementary students into East Side Elementary and save more money. She has two sons, a second grader and a third grader, who attend Fowler.

“Why are you stopping at Fowler?,” Ms. Fenlong asked. “Why don’t you close West Side too? You claim to have all this room at East Side. Let’s just pack them all in there.”

Another parent, Shelley S. Clancy, asked whether the district will lose state building aid by closing Fowler Elementary and whether outstanding bonds will still have to be paid off.

School Board President Barry Smith said school officials have researched that question and will provide the information on its website. Paper copies will also be available to those who request it.

School Superintendent Lauren F. French said the next step will be to work with Fowler families to determine whether their children will attend East Side or West Side next year.

“This has been a very difficult decision for the board, for the staff and for the community,” Mrs. French said.

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