BOE to strengthen communication with Albany

Photo by Dion Ogust

The Saugerties schools will have greater access to its state representatives through a committee established at last month’s board meeting. Board president George Heidcamp announced the appointments to the committee Tuesday, December 13. The committee will consist of Robert Thomann, who proposed and argued for the committee, Heidcamp, vice president Thomas Ham and schools superintendent Seth Turner. Thomann will chair the committee.

State mandates and a recent edict requiring municipalities, including school districts, to limit their budget increases means school boards must be pro-active in dealing with the state, member Thomann said at the November board meeting. “If you look at the best practices of different boards of education, if you look at the best practices of professional organizations, the going trend is to have a government relations committee,” he said.

State legislators rely on local elected representatives to give them information on their constituents’ needs, Thomann said. “We, the board of education, are the local elected representatives of the Saugerties school community, but we don’t have a regular, formal link with state senator Bonacic or with our assemblypersons. I would like to see us establish a government relations committee or meet with our representatives as a whole, that we have some formal link to advocate for our district as we go through this budget process.”

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Noting the controversy over the recent edict limiting of school budget increases to two percent, Thomann said he would like to see Saugerties prepared to make its case. Several other school districts in the area have held forums on the tax cap with the public during October, Thomann said. Given that the board needs to get more information out to the public regarding the tax cap, “This would be one way to do it.”

The committee could keep the board up to date on what elected representatives are thinking and proposing. Thomann referred to a recent meeting the Highland school board held on the budget and tax cap, parts of which are on that district’s website.

Heidcamp noted that the New York State School Boards Association is seeking mandate relief for school districts. The association is raising many of the same issues. The association is representing the broad, statewide issues, while Thomann is looking for a body that would focus on the Saugerties community.

The committee Thomann envisions would digest the large amount of state materials and present it to the board on a regular basis. “Right now, we don’t have a forum to do that,” he said.

Heidcamp wanted to hear the administration’s view on the subject. The administrators have been reporting regularly to the board on their communications with state representatives, he said.

School superintendent Seth Turner had no problem with such a committee, but suggested he would prefer a committee of the entire board. Turner praised Thomann, saying he had some good ideas as a new board member, and encouraged him to continue. However, he said, “I have been coming to board meetings and talked about meetings with legislators. Representative Pete Lopez has come to our offices on numerous occasions, to sit with us and review our finances.

Turner said he feels “a knot in my stomach” every time the two percent tax cap comes up because “I’m working really hard to not let there be this laundry list of things that get cut.”

The school district is finally getting a handle on its finances, and “I want to go forward with a budget that will not be reducing programs,” Turner said. He wanted the school board to speak with one voice.

Thomann pressed his case. He said he was thinking more of people getting information and sharing it, rather than trying to speak for the district. “We all have busy schedules, and if someone can attend a conference or a meeting and share the information that helps all of us.”

That formulation seemed acceptable. “When you talk about information-sharing, I feel much more comfortable with it,” Turner said. The opinions of the board vary. The process should be one of sharing and discussion, not individual board members speaking for the board, he thought.

Board member Teresa Bach Tucker suggested that the committee be established for one year only, with the possibility of continuing. She moved that “the board of education approves the creation of a 2011-2012 government relations committee for the purpose of gathering information and sharing issues affecting the district legislatively and bringing that information to the board and public.”

The board approved the amendment and the motion as amended.

Following the meeting, Thomann said the next step was implementation of the resolution. “The president will appoint a chairperson for the committee, and it will be made up of board members. I’m new on the board, and it is hard to tell how the committee will function until the details are worked out.”

Following this week’s meeting, Thomann said he was satisfied with the way the committee was constituted, and he hopes it will help the board work out ways to stay up to date on statewide issues.

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