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Fowler Elementary School dispute continues

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BALMAT — Opponents of a Gouverneur Central School District board decision to close Fowler Elementary School have not given up on a reversal even while the board moves ahead to dispose of the building.

“They may have won the battle, but they haven’t won the war,” said David L. Spilman, a former Fowler town supervisor. “We’re going to pursue it. I’ve got to see how much backing I’ve got. There’s a lot of people who have said they’re going to help me.”

At a public forum in February, Mr. Spilman produced a document from the early days of consolidation that said each district with a school was entitled by law to have it maintained as long as local district voters wanted.

The school district posted an advisory opinion on its website from attorney Marc H. Reitz, East Syracuse, that the information provided by Mr. Spilman was true in 1949, but was amended in 1958.

“Where central school districts had been compelled to obtain voter approval before closing such schools, the 1958 amendment limited this requirement to the five-year period following centralization,” he wrote.

The only recourse was to appeal to the state Legislature to repeal the amendment, Mr. Reitz wrote, quoting a 1959 Appellate Division opinion on a case in Steuben County.

“In conclusion, the responsibility of deciding whether Fowler Elementary School should be closed, and the authority to act on a determination regarding the same, rests with the board of education,” Mr. Reitz wrote.

Mr. Spilman said Mr. Reitz’s opinion is not conclusive.

“According to them, it’s not valid,” Mr. Spilman said. “To me, it’s unfair to us.”

The school board, which voted Monday to close the school, will review all of its options on whether to give away the building or sell it, Superintendent Lauren F. French said. “That discussion will be the topic of the next several meetings,” she said.

The town of Fowler informally has expressed interest in the building for its offices and as a community center, but Supervisor Michael J. Cappellino said he did not want to get ahead of his board, members of which would prefer the school stay open.

If the school is to close, Mr. Cappellino said, he would prefer the building become a community gathering spot rather than a shuttered shell.

“I think eventually we’ll have to look at the practical part of it,” he said.

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