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Fowler School discussion will be Feb. 11

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GOUVERNEUR — Whether to close Fowler Elementary School will be the sole focus of a public forum of the Board of Education on Feb. 11 in the high school auditorium.

The board also has a meeting at 7 p.m. Monday in the high school cafeteria when residents may speak during the regular public comment period but a dialog between the audience and the board will not take place then. Questions that could be researched and addressed at the Feb. 11 meeting are welcome.

“There will be a back-and-forth Feb. 11,” Gouverneur Central School District Superintendent Lauren F. French said. “We do not want people to be frustrated at Monday’s meeting.”

The school board is considering closing Fowler Elementary School because of declining enrollments, vacant space at the district’s other two elementary schools and to save money — primarily on building maintenance and utilities.

A decision is expected Feb. 25.

The board wants to determine the fate of the building before it begins budget deliberations for the coming year.

“This is the first decision that has to be made,” Mrs. French said.

Closing the building would save approximately $224,000 in the first year. The savings would be less in subsequent years.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposal for Gouverneur would increase its state aid roughly $530,000, but the district has not had time yet to tease out the meaning behind the numbers. In any case, it is looking at a budget increase of $1.15 million based on its estimated known costs, such as increases in health insurance.

Closing Fowler would help the bottom line, but would not make up the difference.

“It’s still not good enough,” Mrs. French said.

The district has already saved about $100,000 this year by not replacing the Fowler principal and reducing the working hours of one Committee on Special Education secretary. Kimberly A. Hayes serves as both principal and CSE chairwoman and has one secretary for both jobs. A nurse and a custodian are retiring. If the school were to remain open, the board would have to fill at least some of the positions that would otherwise be left vacant.

If Fowler Elementary closes, the teaching staff will not change but will move with the pupils to either West Side Elementary or East Side Elementary so class sizes will stay about the same. One teacher who is retiring may not be replaced based on enrollment figures, Mrs. French said.

“Instructional staff at Fowler are going to be going with those children,” she said. “We have 10 open classrooms at East Side.”

Fowler has 116 pupils, East Side Elementary has 406 pupils and West Side Elementary has 262 pupils.

A busing schedule would not be known until August, but some pupils might spend less time on the bus than they do now. Of Fowler’s 116 pupils, only 28 live in the hamlet. Others attend Fowler for several reasons, among them the family moved but wanted to keep Fowler as their school, Mrs. French said.

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