BY JOE OLENICK
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal —
W.H. Stevenson Elementary School will close at the conclusion of the school year, after Wilson Board of Education members voted 5-2 on Tuesday night to shut down the Ransomville building.
School officials said the closure will happen when the 2013-14 year ends in June. Board members Mark Randall and Jack Clement were the dissenting votes.
For some of the board members, closing Stevenson was what the public wanted, seen in the two defeats of the 2013-14 budget back in May and June. Wilson is operating under a contingent budget for this school year.
"We feel the school is an important part of the community, but obviously the two no (budget) votes had a major impact on the district and we have to move forward," Carlin said. "I think it's important for board members to speak as one and to make it as positive a transition for the kids and the families."
Board Vice President Michael Leggett said he was convinced last year keeping Stevenson open was the right thing to do. But then, the public spoke in the annual budget vote, he said.
"And the public said no," he said. "And again the following month, the public said – even louder – no. Although it's unfortunate, but I feel it is my duty to go with the numbers."
A group of residents spoke Tuesday night, airing their feelings about the closure. William Smith thanked the board for making a tough but necessary decision.
"It's a sad day to see Stevenson close, but it had to be done," Smith said.
Most had questions and reservations about the closing of Stevenson. Ransomville resident Dan Seider said he believed closing the school was not in the best interest of the kids. Seider advised the board to present a budget with no tax levy increase, because otherwise it won't pass, he said.
Closing the school affects the relationship between the Ransomville community and the school district, Seider said.
"The people of Ransomville were vested in this district," Seider said. "That's gone. All I am now is a taxpayer. That's it."
When closed, Stevenson will be kept "switch ready," meaning the building will be maintained, said Superintendent Michael Wendt. If that plan holds true, Stevenson could be reopened if Wilson's population warranted extra space for elementary students.
Wendt also mentioned the district was looking at other uses for the building, such as adult education or BOCES programs.
Former board president Timothy Kropp, who as president voiced support for keeping both Wilson elementary schools open, was not re-elected in May. He said Tuesday he continues to support the idea of community schools.
Kropp said the Ransomville and Wilson communities have a few things in common. For example, both have a gas station, grocery store, a single traffic light and their elementary school.
"And they each have a population that supports their school," Kropp said. "A school is a major part of the area... Ransomville is losing a part of their identity that can never be replaced."
Residents questioned if there would be a savings from the school closing. Wilson resident Wade Wagner said he'd be for the closure only if there was a savings.
At a presentation a year ago, school officials pegged the savings at about $500,000. No new figure was available Tuesday night, but school officials said it wouldn't cost much to maintain the building.
Students who aren't moving up to the middle/high school will attend Thomas Marks Elementary in the Village of Wilson. Class sizes are expected to be between 22 and 25 kids, but that's an early estimate, Wendt said.
Board member Donald DeLisi brought up the idea of changing the Thomas Marks name in order to promote unity and a new start for the elementary kids. Wendt said the notion has been and will continue to be discussed.
"It's a new start for both groups of students," he said. "It's the end of an era and the start of a new beginning."
Randall asked if the Stevenson students would be allowed and bused over to Ransomville for the annual Flag Day parade.
"They've been doing that parade forever," Randall said.
Wendt said the Flag Day parade, as well as other items, will be discussed as the district prepares to consolidate the two schools.Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.