UPDATE: Syracuse School Board votes to keep Elmwood open, adopts budget

Eliza Sampson chokes back tears as the school board votes to keep Elmwood Elementary open next year.

"This has been a long battle and I know that the kids will be very happy," said Elmwood parent Eliza Sampson. "They do not want to move, they want to stay where they are."

There was an angry cry from parents when the idea went public back in January. Tonight's decision is a victory for Elmwood, but was met with some grumbles from some teachers. Keeping the school open comes at a big cost, 45 more job cuts, meaning the budget now slashes 583 positions from the district. Pink slips should be out by mid-March.

"I don't even know what to say," said Joan Brown with the Syracuse Teachers Association. "I can't imagine opening a school with 583 less people. We don't have extra people. Classrooms will be bigger, kids won't get serviced and it's devastating."

The former approved swing space plan would have closed Elmwood to make room for H.W. Smith students, while their school is being renovated.

Superintendent Dan Lowengard says the common council wasn't on board with that plan, putting money for school construction projects in jeopardy. "We were sort of in an unenviable place where they were saying we aren't going to borrow the money to do H.W. Smith or Dr. Weeks. Well that's ridiculous," said Lowengard. "It's $60-million, we have to put people to work. So we think this is a good compromise."

Lowengard says now, work may not get started on H.W. Smith for at least a year and a half, a costly $1-million delay for the district.

But it means hundreds of students won't be shuffled around to other schools next year. And parents like Eliza Sampson say that's priceless. "I don't know what to say right now," she said. "I've been praying for this."

The board will not take a second look at the swing space plan to see if there is somewhere else H.W. Smith students can go, in order to get that construction moving. Bellevue Middle School will still close, and serve as swing space for Dr. Weeks students while that school is renovated.

Scroll down for more information on the 2011-2012 budget that was passed tonight by the school board.

Update, 9:00pm:

In a stunning reversal of a prior decision, the Syracuse City School Board voted Wednesday night to keep Elmwood Elementary School open.

The board voted unanimously, even though keeping the building open will add to the job cuts the district was already planning. The district was slashing 540 jobs.

Now that it will keep Elmwood open, that number will rise to at least 583. Keeping Elmwood open is a major victory for a vocal group of parents with children at the school, who fought for weeks to keep it open.

The school board also voted to pass its $331-million budget, which is 6% lower than last years spending plan. The board is waiting to hear whether bargaining units will agree to a wage freeze, which would save 100 positions. Top administrators and Deputy Superintendents said they would take the pay freeze to save money. An early retirement incentive could also cut back on the number of layoffs.

There weren't many changes to the Superintendents original proposed budget, which he unveiled in February. Though some expenditures were scaled back including money for utilities, psychologists and game officials. The approved district budget is now in the hands of Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner and the Common Council, which the district says can control how much money the district can spend. The city adopts it's budget in May.

There was no decision tonight about choosing a new Superintendent. The school board says it is still discussing the two options.

Jessica Cain's Original story:

The Syracuse school board is expected to vote tonight on the budget and possibly select a new superintendent.

Current Superintendent Dan Lowengard says he's had to make some difficult decisions this year in his proposed budget because of a $60 million budget gap.

His proposed budget includes more than 500 positions eliminated. That includes teachers, staff, and administrators. He says he hopes a retirement incentive will limit the number of job cuts.

Lowengard also says if unions agree to a wage freeze, that may save some of those positions.

The district is also looking into whether consolidating some sports teams would save money.

That's not the only major issue on the agenda.

The school board could also select a new superintendent tonight. Lowengard is retiring at the end of the school year.

Finalists Dr. Bernard Taylor Jr. and Sharon Contreras visited Corcoran High School last week to meet with parents and students to hear what they want in a leader.

Taylor is currently a superintendent in Grand Rapids, MI, and Contreras is the Chief Academic Officer for the Providence school district.

Previous coverage on budget

Previous coverage on superintendent search