Padalino added that, at the instruction of the school board, he’s been working on an alternate scenario which wouldn’t move the fifth grade, with the hopes of being able to present that on Thursday as well.
Gallo, Hein get involved
Kingston Mayor Shayne Gallo also criticized the plan’s impact on the Midtown community. In a letter to Padalino dated July 5, Gallo appeared to take particular exception to the proposed closure of Sophie Finn Elementary. The school sits directly behind Kingston High, and unlike the other potentially shuttered buildings in the district – including the Cioni Administration Building on Crown Street– Sophie Finn may already have a new tenant lined up.
County Executive Mike Hein has said he would like to turn Sophie Finn into a satellite location for SUNY Ulster, vacating its space in the county’sUlster Avenueoffices in the process. Under his plan, dubbed STRIVE, the Ulster Avenue complex would then absorb some county government departments from their locations at 300 Flatbush Ave. and 25 South Manor Ave. in Kingston, with those buildings then sold by the county.
Hein said the cost of retrofitting Sophie Finn for use as a college building would come to around $4.15 million, with the state contributing $3.96 million to the plan and the Dyson Foundation $500,000. Hein noted that the move would make it easier for Kingston residents to attend classes, as Sophie Finn is situated directly behind Kingston High School on Broadway.
Gallo’s letter focused on how closing schools in Midtown would impact the ability of parents to remain connected to their children’s education. Many students at Sophie Finn currently walk to school, but if moved to Harry L. Edson onMerilina Avenue, they would no longer have that option.
“I am particularly concerned because many of these Midtown residents do not have access to reliable transportation,” Gallo wrote. “Under your plan, these parents will not be able to effectively participate in their children’s educational planning because the children will be attending an elementary school which is not walking distance from their homes. I continue to hear concerns from our Midtown residents regarding these issues and I have encouraged those residents to contact the district and express those concerns.”
Gallo added that the district’s decision to host their forum at the M. Clifford Miller Middle School was similarly distressing.
“Scheduling the public forum in the Town of Ulster will ensure that the most affected members of the Midtown community would NOT [sic] be able to participate in the forum,” Gallo wrote. “Such action effectively excludes our poorest residents from the public forum and thereby furthers the discriminatory impact of your plan on the minority and poor community.”
The forum has since been moved to the Kingston High auditorium, where it will be held tonight, Thursday, July 12, at 7 p.m.
In an interview Tuesday with the editor of this newspaper, Gallo repeated what he wrote to Padalino on Friday and expanded upon his concerns, saying that the Finn site had issues with parking and drainage that would need to be looked at by the city planning board, and that neither Hein nor Padalino had given him the consideration of consulting with the mayor’s office — though, Gallo did note, Hein did consult with members of the Kingston Common Council — before announcing his plan. Gallo said he had already discussed with Bard College the possibility of the Dutchess school using Finn as a satellite campus, and that Hein’s announcement took him by surprise.
On Wednesday, however, Hein and Gallo had a sit-down to hash out their differences, a meeting which apparently succeeded. Wednesday evening, Gallo released a statement saying that he was now on board with Hein’s plan, calling it “an innovative and cooperative plan that will enhance the quality of life of our residents and create an educational corridor in Midtown Kingston.”
Gallo’s statement stated: “I want to compliment the county executive on this transformational plan that dovetails so well with my own initiatives. After discussing some of my concerns with the county executive, I am confident that they can all be reasonably addressed and that the STRIVE project will greatly benefit the city, county, Kingston City School District and SUNY Ulster … I look forward to working with County Executive Hein and all of the STRIVE partners to make this project a reality.”
Questions to be answered
According to Padalino, his intention at the forum is to first respond to questions posited by Board of Education Trustees in the hopes that they may ask questions some members of the public may have. Matthew McCoy, who was recently elected president of the school board, said he’s looking forward to hearing what Padalino has to say.
“In terms of being fiscally responsible, it makes sense,” McCoy said of Padalino’s plan. “We’d be closing all those buildings and still have good class sizes. It’s hard to argue numbers, as long as the numbers are accurate.”
McCoy said he was intrigued by what the closure of Sophie Finn might mean to area residents should the SUNY Ulster plan go through.
“We might be closing a school, but we’re also repurposing one, too,” he said.
Padalino said he hoped the forum would clear up any misconceptions or misgivings about his plan, though he added that whether it moves forward or not isn’t up to him.
“There were certain goals for redistricting, and I felt the plan that I put forward met those goals most efficiently and effectively,” he said. “It will be up to the board to decide if they want to scrap the plan, adopt the plan, ask me to tweak the plan. I’ll operate at their directive. My job is to come up with the best educational plan, the best fiscal plan and the best facilities use plan and the best thing for our kids socially and academically to be able to offer programs and expand programs. I want to be able to spend money on children and not buildings, and that’s what we’re trying to focus on.”
Whichever direction the board goes, Padalino said, he hopes it happens soon.
“It’s time to answer questions, get direction from the board on what they would like me to do next and move on with running our school district,” he said. “We’ve been distracted by this with good reason, but there are other things we’ve got to do in the district as well. We need to move forward.”
With additional reporting by Dan Barton