Onteora district provides retirement incentives as alternative to layoffs

Onteora School Board (phot by Lisa Childers)

As Onteora Central School District officials begin to discuss how staff will be divided among the new grade configuration changes for the 2012/2013 school year, trustees approved a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that gives senior teachers a window of retirement incentives. Such a measure, it is hoped, will prevent massive layoffs. The incentive provides a boost of $26,000 to teachers who worked beyond their eligibility of retirement and lifts penalties for teachers who are coming upon eligibility. Teachers will have until March 14 to take the incentive “and based on that, we are hopefully going to positively impact the budget by being able to reduce the amount of people that might require unemployment,” said district superintendent Dr. Phyllis Spiegel-McGill. She said that the district is in similar discussions with the Onteora Non-teachers Association. “We may want to open that up to people who have either passed (retirement) eligibility and also who may experience a penalty, but are getting ready to retire,” McGill said. “The other piece that I want the board to discuss is if we want to offer $7500 or if you think we should be looking at a little bit more, or where we should be in terms of coming into an MOA.”

The new configuration calls for two Kindergarten-through-three schools on each end of the district, at Phoenicia and Woodstock Elementary Schools, while Bennett Elementary at the Boiceville site will become an intermediate school housing grades-four-through-six. As a result 28.5 employee cuts are projected — a number that may fluctuate, according to the superintendent. McGill said in order for Bennett to retain its third grade for the one year, a part of the plan designed to keep young students from having to switch schools in consecutive years, it may need an additional teacher. Also, to date there are 97 incoming Kindergarten children for the fall of 2012. McGill said Woodstock will most likely get three kindergarten classrooms and Phoenicia Elementary will house two. An outlined budget will be presented at the next board of education meeting on March 20 at Woodstock Elementary.


West Hurley Elementary

Board trustees discussed what action to take, if any, on the West Hurley school buildings. McGill recommended an updated appraisal on market value, including ones on the other school buildings in the district. Trustee Rob Kurnit said the town of Hurley has the property assessed at $3.9 million. However, he said, in 2008 the Pyramid group assessed the market value of the property between $650,000 and $750,000. Trustee Tony Fletcher said, “So the Hurley assessment and the realtor’s assessment appears to be very different.” The board agreed that an updated valuation was necessary.


Kurnit listed a few possible problems with restricted zoning and the bond for the roof that is not completely paid for. Assistant Superintendent Victoria McLaren said it’s zoned for school. Fletcher asked, “What does that mean if we were to put the building on the market?”

“I believe we would need to speak to the Hurley zoning board,” McLaren said.

Kurnit said, “It also has an overall residential zone. So if you wanted to put in a home for the aged there perhaps it would be feasible, but that is what we need to find out.”

Trustee Tom Hickey said, “Generally, the whole area is zoned residential then you have an exemption for the school…so whoever would want to use it would have to apply for a variance depending on what they would want to use it for.”

Fletcher was concerned that the playground equipment was a liability. McLaren said, they have posted signs, “but ultimately it’s our responsibility.” Trustees will tour the facilities and look into equipment removal.



Director of buildings and grounds Jared Mance reported that Bennett Elementary is undergoing a series of air quality tests for asbestos. “A parent expressed some concerns about asbestos and the asbestos report has been done,” said Mance. The report showed no contamination, but Mance continued, “Based on her concerns we decided to take precautionary measures and air test it.” There were eight air samples in the older part of the building where asbestos is commonly laying in floor tile adhesive and pipe insulation. The results are not available yet but an AHERA (Asbestos Hazard Emergency Act) report is conducted every six months. Mance said asbestos is only a problem if the floor tiles loosen. “We had a couple cases in Woodstock, so it has been an ongoing process and we do deal with it as it comes along.” Woodstock and the Middle/High School have had some of its floors replaced due to loose tile. Special precautions were taken during removal.



Superintendent McGill is concerned that the district’s Facebook page is becoming a sounding board for vulgar and profane language. It’s difficult for her to police the site and she says she cannot always contact the district clerk to take down offensive comments. “We had to take time out from an agenda setting meeting because there were inflammatory offensive comments on Facebook that in this occasion didn’t require the Superintendent to call a lawyer,” said Fletcher “But I believe that has happened at an earlier stage and every time we call a lawyer it costs the district.” The page has 107 members and is an open forum. Nearly all entries have been about recent district changes including complaints on grades four-through-twelve riding the same bus beginning this autumn. Angela Vernooy-Hillard recently posted a series of bus problems including drug use. She also wrote, “Or how about a few years ago, wasn’t it a few Bennett 5th graders caught in the back of the bus for giving BJ?” The district, in response, has posted “The Superintendent has verified with the HS Principal that these events did not occur.”

Trustee Dan Spencer believes the page is necessary for opinions to be expressed, however “multiple moderators is a good idea.” Trustees agreed and more administrators were given access to police the site.


In other news

• The 2012 annual Dodgeball tournament and fundraiser was a huge success with Phoenicia sixth graders taking first place in the first student competition (normally it’s only for adults). Phoenicia music teacher Dave Laks created a music video with his music students featuring a pep rally for teachers participating in the March 2 event. The video features a dodgeball with Bennett Principal Gabriel Buono’s head plastered on it. He is the organizer of the popular event. The video received over 1000 hits in less than 48 hours and can be seen by going to the district website at Onteora.k12.ny.us. Click on Phoenicia School, followed by Dodgeball Pep Rally video.

• At a previous board meeting trustees approved an agreement with the Onteora Administrators Association (OAA) from July 1, 2001 to June 30, 2014. OAA includes Principals; Assistant Principals; Director of Pupil Personnel; and the Physical Education/Athletic/Health coordinator and Dean of Students. Employees will be receiving a two-percent salary increase and their health care contributions will increase from 11 to13 percent. Individuals can opt out of the health care package with a $2000 incentive for an individual or $3000 for family.++


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