“We tried it (pay freeze) last year, but it wasn’t successful,” said trustee Anne McGillicuddy. “But we tried it a little late in the game and I think if we start talking about it now or at least consider it, we might have some success…I would like everyone to work together for the kids, I don’t want to see us cut music and any of those wonderful things that enhances the students education.”
Trustee Tony Fletcher saw the logic of the approach. “I think every district in the State this year is going to come to the bargaining units and say ‘this is what were looking at, can we work on this together,’” he said.
In presenting the discussion, both Interim Superintendent Charlotte Gregory and Assistant Superintendent for Business Victoria McLaren stressed that the unknown factors dependent on politics in Albany cloud all the deliberations.
“I found this very difficult,” said Gregory. “This is budget 34 for me and I don’t know how it’s going to end up which is unusual because generally I can say, here’s the Governor’s proposal, here’s what the legislatures are talking about and right now, we have nothing.” McLaren and Gregory stressed that the State budget is nowhere near completion, therefore many variables are not yet known.
Commenting on the projected increases, McLaren was succinct. “Clearly that’s not feasible, but it’s a starting point,” she said, pointing out that the budget would change as more information comes in. “A lot of that has to do with retirement and health insurance benefits unfortunately.” She said primarily health insurance increased significantly. “We have 286 retirees and 286 employees and the costs are really crippling.”
Added to this mix is the two percent tax cap currently proposed by newly elected Governor Andrew Cuomo. “If the Governor were to succeed to have a two percent tax cap we would need to cut almost 2.8 million to get there so this is clearly not a great place to start with.” McLaren said.
Gregory said results of the tax cap could be staggering because currently no aid is available. “There is no money, no new money coming to us, this Race To The Top money is minimal dollars and it’s all going to go through your regional BOCES and there just is no money.”
Though, she said that compared to other districts in the county, financially speaking, “I think you are in a better position so far as the others, but that doesn’t mean that you are golden.”
Gregory spoke of a possible small silver lining — that a new commission is coming into place to discuss how to ease up on unfunded, or under-funded, State Mandates. But, she said, so far nothing concrete is happening.
Gregory said she has asked the district’s administrative cabinet to list priorities in spending. She suggested that when it comes to budget cuts, that the board should look at all departments and programs and take from each in order of fairness. She said the board could look at creative ways to blend multiple grade programs that could be an educational boon while cutting costs.
Interim Director of Pupil Personnel James Walker reported changes that needed to be made to the special education department in order to meet State requirements. “One of the self-contained special education classes had to remove four students because they didn’t fit the profile of the other students in the class,” Walker said. Onteora also, he said, was denied a variance to allow a classroom of 16 instead of the State required maximum classroom of 15. The State denied the request and thus a new classroom was formed. Walker said the department was able to use a district teacher that resulted in no additional costs. The district will however need to hire a part time English As Second Language (ESL) teacher in order to meet State requirements.
Trustee Rob Kurnit asked how feasible it was to allow additional preventative special education programs for grades Kindergarten-through-three. Walker said the current financial climate was a major obstacle.
McGillicuddy filling in for Board President Laurie Osmond announced that the trustees are close to choosing a new district Superintendent. “We have narrowed down to our top candidate and we are meeting that person in the very near future and hopefully we’ll begin contract negotiations with that person in the next week.”
Water main break
On Wednesday morning, January 5, a water main at the Boiceville site had ruptured resulting in the closure of the whole district. Even though only two buildings, Bennett and the Middle/High School were affected, Gregory explained that there was no plan in place to move the students and staff to other schools. If the district had an unequal allotted closing day, it would result in the students and staff affected, to use a vacation day to make up the lost day. The main pipe had broken around the Bennett parking lot area but the water was found gushing near the high school. The water was shut down and fixed within 24 hours.
There will be a special board of education meeting next Tuesday, January 18 at 6pm in the Central Office in Boiceville. There will be a public agenda followed by executive session. Check the district website for more information at Onteora.k12.ny.us. ++