Mark Simonson

Mark Simonson

The possibility of closing an elementary school will almost certainly bring about emotions in a community. An emotional pot got stirred up 30 and 35 years ago in Oneonta, as there were moves made to close Center Street Elementary School, the oldest school in the Oneonta district.

"The Center Street School in Oneonta will not close next year under any circumstances," came a report in the Daily Star on Wednesday, May 12, 1976.

School Board President Eloise Ellis said reports that the school would close because of the district's "fiscal plight" were false.

Enrollment in Oneonta's schools was on the decline at the time, so the issue of closing the school resurfaced in 1981. At a school board meeting Wednesday, Jan. 28, the board voted, 4-3, to let the voters in the district weigh in on the possible closure of Center Street.

This was only an advisory referendum, as the school board would have the final decision on the closure.

A committee of the school board had come up with a closing plan that would divide Center Street's students among the remaining elementary school buildings the following school year.

Students in the school's neighborhood would be transported by bus to the other schools.

"Without a name or money, a group of approximately 30 Oneonta parents is launching a sophisticated campaign to save Center Street School," came a report in the Star on Tuesday, March 3.

"I guess the people who are in this feel children's futures are at stake," said the group's unofficial leader, Barbara Stevens. In the two months since the school board proposed the closure, several parents had put in more than 100 hours of research that could be used to support their belief that the school was still needed.

The committee did eventually take a name, the Concerned Parents Committee. The committee produced a lengthy column on the editorial page of the Star on Thursday, April 30, detailing their research as to why the school shouldn't be closed.

"You have heard the arguments on both sides of the issue," the column read. "As May 5th nears, consider this simple question: Who is to decide the future of education in Oneonta?

The countless people who want Center Street School kept in operation as a neighborhood elementary school -- or a few elected officials who have lost touch with the desires of the citizens who elected them?"

Three Oneonta school board members countered, launching a last-minute mail appeal to close the school the weekend before the May 5 vote. The members felt their plan would save as much as $961,000 over five years by cutting six teaching positions and eliminating maintenance costs on the building.

Oneonta voters Tuesday, May 5, decided by more than a 2-1 margin, 1,773 to 784, to keep Center Street open, a mandate the district's consolidation committee vowed to follow.

"We're satisfied with the results and should certainly abide by the public's wishes," said board member Samuel Pondolfino, chairman of the consolidation committee that urged passage for the closure.

"The kids were just ecstatic over the results of the election," said Ron Whalen, a veteran sixth-grade teacher at Center Street on Wednesday. "Everyone came in with big smiles this morning."

To celebrate the result, third grade teacher Angeline Nielsen ate lunch with her class Wednesday.

"When I walked in the door," Mrs. Nielsen told the Star, "one little boy came running down the hall yelling, Mrs. Nielsen, Mrs. Nielsen, they're going to keep the school open."

Students Danny Berman and Tim Stevens were seen in a photo starting their walk home from school.

The walk had new meaning, as the boys agreed it would be awful to ride a bus home the next year.

This weekend: Oneonta seemed to need a bit of a moral cleanup in 1921.

City Historian Mark Simonson's column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or e-mail him at His website is His columns can be found at

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