The figures are driven by increases in the cost of health insurance, retirement contributions and contractual salary increases. Reductions in State aid and earned interest revenue also add to the mix.
But some staff retirements have been posted, giving the board of education trustees a little wiggle room, roughly around $160,000 in savings, and some programs slated for elimination appear to be breathing a second life.
At the board of education meeting Tuesday, April 13, at the Middle/High School, several parents and students spoke to protest program cuts. Members of the Marching Band and Color Guard asked the board to reconsider eliminating the program that cost the district roughly $31,000. Music teacher Steve Murphy, director of the program said he could reduce the budget to $28,500 by eliminating a stipend. The program has between 60 and 70 members. Over the past weekend several color guard members were demonstrating on the Woodstock Village Green.
Trustee Tom Hickey said flyers were handed out by participants noting a discrepancy in the usage of $1.7 million in an unencumbered fund balance. According to the flyer, Hickey said, the money could be used to reinstate programs. He asked Assistant Superintendent for Business Victoria McLaren to clarify how the money can be used. She said the money was set aside for additional unemployment benefits and the Tax certiorari lawsuit between the town of Hurley and New York City. “We can’t use it to increase the budget, but we can use it to offset the levy.” McLaren said the tax certiorari budget is already under-funded (should the town of Hurley lose the suit, or settle for a lesser assessment on its Ashokan Reservoir land) and to use the money to offset the levy at this particular time was “irresponsible.” Board members will vote at 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 20 at the Middle/High School, on a budget to present to the district for its approval in May.
The district was presented with an offer from BOCES to restore part of the Gifted and Talented program. Instead of a budget of $224,357 its cost would be cut roughly in half to $112,000. Assistant Superintendent Kathleen O’Brien was not overly anxious to accept the offer, however, stating that it was, “too much money for too little (program).” O’Brien voiced concern about how much hands-on time kids would receive with instructors. The program serves between 700 and 800 students district wide. In an alternative proposal, the administration offered to restore $35,000 (initially $16,094) to the Gifted and Talented budget in order to start up an in-district enrichment program. Onteora teachers would run the program instead of BOCES.
The board asked the district to reinstate some of these programs even if partially, but to approach the BOCES offer with caution. Trustee Tony Fletcher was also uncomfortable with the elimination of High School after school homework help. High school Principal Lance Edelman said priority should be for students who struggle with academics. Edelman said they do not have a concrete program to replace the Gifted and Talented program, but there were many ideas tossed around. “We have a lot of talented teachers in our buildings who can do creative things.” He said the school community continues to reach out for volunteers and enjoys a wealth of local talent.
At the board’s direction, additional administrative costs were reduced, which helped to restore some of the programs. Athletic teams, JV sports and the music teacher have been reinstated into the budget. Three Middle/High school clerical workers will be eliminated at a savings of $92,161; Overtime pay will be reduced at a savings of $27,480; Attorney fee reduction will save the district $25,000 and paying off debt for a 2008 bus purchase saves $43,306. Other cuts that remain in the plan include technology, BOCES, conferences, four teachers, two special education teachers, one speech pathologist and the GED teacher. The INDIE budget of $50,000 is slated for elimination. Ford said she is in discussions with INDIE director Russell Richardson, seeking to come up with ways the district can still keep the program, though funding will need to come from other sources.
If voters reject the budget and the district is forced into a contingent budget, further cuts will include Volleyball, Golf, and JV sports and after school homework help at the Middle School level.
Friday, April 16 the students from the Middle/High School will have an opportunity to participate in a Day of Silence, an annual event sponsored by the Middle/High School Gay Straight Alliance Club (GSA). Paula Dutcher secretary of GSA said, “We are really lucky we have an administration in our school, with students, staff and faculty who support this great day.”
The Day of Silence was created by the University of Virginia in 1996 and has since grown into a nationwide event with over 8000 Middle, High schools and colleges participating. Students will take a vow of silence throughout the school day as a way to recognize and protest anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) bullying and harassment.
“Sexual orientation and gender expression are two of the top three reasons for student bullying with appearance being number one,” Dutcher said. “Nine out of ten LGBT report verbal, sexual or physical harassment at school and 30 percent of those students miss at least one day a month on average for bullying.”
According to the Day Of Silence website, April 16 was chosen to recognize Carl Walker-Hoover, a boy from Massachusetts who did not identify with any sexual orientation, but was bullied including the use of anti-gay harassment. He committed suicide on April 6, 2009, before his 12th birthday on April 17.
Rumors swirl among the relationship between the Board of Education and Ford. During public commentary, past board trustee Rita Vanacore said, “I just found out that this board has chosen not to renew the contract of our Superintendent and I am very upset by that.” She praised Ford for her hard work and diligence. “What we hired while I was a board member was the most impressive Superintendent that we could have hired.” She criticized past administrators for not doing their job with staff evaluations or filing. In a separate interview, school board president Laurie Osmond said Ford’s contract was up for a year extension in June. She added that the board has not met to discuss her contract and she does not have any idea what Vanacore was talking about.
During board meetings in March, according to Osmond, false information was leaked regarding a harassment complaint. A resolution was passed on March 2 that would allow a maximum of $7500 to investigate a harassment charge. Due to confidentiality, the resolution does not name the employee. The resolution states that a particular employee “filed a harassment complaint with the Board of Education on or about July 7, 2009.” According to district notes, during public commentary at the meeting, Peter Freidel complained about the use of money freed up to investigate Superintendent Leslie Ford. Freidel is the husband of previous board member Michelle Freidel who resigned in July of 2009. Osmond prohibited Freidel from speaking about employees. In a separate interview, Osmond said she had no idea how Freidel got the information and why he chose to mention Ford. She would not comment on who the employee mentioned in the resolution was. She added that leaked employee information, true or false would not be tolerated. Ford also would not comment. ++