SAVOY -- The Emma L. Miller Memorial Elementary School will without question be open next fall, Northern Berkshire School Union Superintendent Jonathan Lev says to those worried about the future of a key town institution.
He and a contingent of staff, parents and town officials are pushing back against a recent Berkshire Regional Planning Commission study that suggested the school might be financially unsustainable.
They point to the school’s virtues and say potential savings from a closing are less than one thinks.
Lev and Selectmen Chairman John Tynan want to instead pursue as-needed budget adjustments, continual improvements to school functions and perhaps keeping the town’s sixth-graders there, which would boost next year’s projected enrollment of 34 to 35 to as high as 46.
Tynan painted a decision to close the school as a point of no return.
"Once a town’s school is closed there’s no options ... the people won’t have a voice," Tynan said. "You just get a bill from another town. You get what you get at that point."
Emma L. Miller students score well on the MCAS -- outranking Adams-Cheshire Regional School District and North Adams Public School District as Level 2 performers -- and Lev and Tynan want to draw attention to the intangible benefits of having a community school.
"It’s why I moved here," Tynan said. "My wife and I knew [Savoy] had a good school, and my daughter has done excellent."
He said the school is likewise a draw to anyone considering a move to the area. But perhaps not if talk of a closing continues to circulate, Tynan contends.
"We feel [the study] is damaging and not warranted at this time," Tynan said.
School Committee member Amoreena Gazaille struck a similar chord in a letter to the Transcript last week.
Lev visited the school Tuesday and spoke of worry among its full and part-time staff of 14, who reflected similar concern coming from town parents. Those parents represent a total of 34 of 40 students at the school.
"I assured all the teachers today: School will be there in the fall," Lev said. "We’re trying to get the word out that this is a really great school. As far as we’re concerned, it’s not going anywhere."
School Committee member Thomas Therrien noted the potential logistical issues involved in closing the school.
"It’s hard for me to believe there’d be any savings," Therrien said. "We’d need extra buses traveling long distances ... It wouldn’t be fair to put a kindergartner on a bus for an hour to get to and from school."
The study concludes that closing the school would see immediate savings through in-district payments and further savings in tuition payments to out-of-district schools, as Savoy would have to regionalize with a neighboring district.
However, in doing so, Savoy would take on a portion of its new district’s costs -- how much would depend on the agreement -- and would also see transportation expenses go up.
BRPC’s study originated from a former Select Board’s initiative to assess the school’s future and consider options, including a closure and consolidation with another district.
They argued, and the study reflects, that the school accounts for the lion’s share of the town’s budget despite having relatively few students.
Savoy’s total educational expenditures are $1,186,733. This includes retirement spending, Chapter 70 funds, transportation and other expenses. The elementary school itself was level funded at $725,000 in fiscal 2013, and Lev expects to do the same, if not lower the budget, in 2014. This latter number includes tuition payments for students who attend Abbott Memorial School in Florida and Hoosac Valley Middle & High School in Cheshire, $75,000 and $170,000, respectively.
Tynan and Lev both have taken issue with the lack of communication by the former Board of Selectmen -- David Desmarais, Scott Koczela and Fred Sawyer -- who initiated the study.
They said neither staff, school union members nor residents were notified of the proposed study.
"They didn’t start it right by engaging the school itself -- committee, parents or teachers; didn’t have a town vote; and then abandoned it when they [resigned in April]," Tynan said, referring to Desmarais and Koczela resigning from the board.
A committee was organized to analyze BRPC’s findings, but it has ceased to meet since the other Selectmen resigned.
"Since I’ve been on the board, it’s pretty much been a nonissue," Therrien said.
Whether it will be picked up in light of the study being published this month remains to be seen.
To reach Phil Demers, email