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Consultant recommends keeping C.V. Elementary open

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CLAYTON — Cape Vincent Elementary should remain open, according to the district’s educational consultant who presented his final report Tuesday to Thousand Islands Central’s Board of Education.

“It is my very firm recommendation that the district continue to operate two elementary schools,” said Philip M. Martin, an educational consultant with Castallo & Silky, Syracuse, in conclusion of a six-month study on whether Thousand Islands should close Cape Vincent and send its 114 students to Guardino Elementary in Clayton.

Although the district’s kindergarten-through-fifth-grade enrollment has been declining since the 1996-97 school year, projections show a “stable” number of enrollments over the next five years, Mr. Martin said.

In fact, he said, enrollment at Cape Vincent is projected to increase by 1 percent based on the latest projections.

But more importantly, Mr. Martin concluded that the estimated $220,000 annual savings, which would lower the district’s tax levy by about 2 percent, is simply “not a sufficient basis for closing” Cape Vincent.

“However, if the K-5 enrollment declines substantially in the future, at some point and time there might be enough information to consider readdressing the question,” Mr. Martin said.

There are no written restrictions prohibiting the district from closing Cape Vincent Elementary nor any other building the Thousand Islands School District operates, he said.

The two schools merged in 1967 when the Clayton School District annexed the Cape Vincent school. In 1973, the district was renamed “Thousand Islands.”

The controversial $24,000 study was initiated in December by the Thousand Islands school board — which has been struggling with a severe budget shortfall owing to a nearly 25 percent reduction in state aid over the past two years and a steady decline in enrollment — and met with much opposition from district residents, especially from those in Cape Vincent.

“I’m pleased with the outcome of the study,” said Daniel A. Wiley, Cape Vincent.

Mr. Wiley was one of 20 members of the community who served on the district’s advisory committee that met six times since February to discuss the pros and cons of operating two elementary schools.

The committee meetings occasionally drew crowds of more than a hundred people, with an overwhelming majority of people, both on the committee and in the audience, voicing their support for keeping the school open.

Very few spoke in favor of the proposed closure and only one community member suggested that Cape Vincent be closed at a committee meeting.

Parents of the 47 students living in the village of Cape Vincent have said they did not want their children, who currently walk to school, to take 40-minute bus rides every morning just to get to Guardino — which is about 15 miles away from Cape Vincent Elementary.

Cape Vincent Mayor Timothy D. Maloney has said the village Board of Trustees is worried that Cape Vincent will lose residents and see its tax base decrease if the elementary school is closed.

Several business owners, including Joseph F. Chavoustie, owner of French Town Market and other Cape Vincent businesses, said they might have to shorten their operational season and lay off workers to stay afloat.

And largely because of the growing anxiety among the community over the issue, 11 people ran for four school board seats this year — a stark contrast to years past when candidates often ran unopposed.

Mr. Martin’s full report — which looks into the district’s history, finance, past and projected enrollment and class sizes, building capacity, transportation and more — will be made available online on the district’s website today.

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