By unanimous vote, the Onteora Central School District Board of Education approved the 2013-2014 School budget of $51.6 million that offers no increase at all in the tax levy. The current year’s school budget of $49.6 million will be increased by 3.71 percent or $1.8 million. The district will utilize $3.4 million of its fund balance to offset this increase and other revenue calculations that allows for the zero increase in the tax-levy.
Very few citizens attended the board’s April 24 meeting at the Middle/High school auditorium, especially when compared to the high emotions from concerned parents and taxpayers to the 2012-2013 budget talks when the district schools were reconfigured due to budget restrictions. The reconfiguration also brought out challengers for the board of education seats at that time. But this year, with two board seats due to expire in July, no one stepped forward to challenge the current trustees Tom Hickey and Rob Kurnit.
District officials have bundled small facility projects that will increase the overall budget by $1.18 million. Included in these repairs are $115,000 for Middle/High school sidewalk and stairs replacement, $80,000 to replace Woodstock Elementary sidewalks, $275,000 to repair/repave its parking area, $120,000 in power distribution upgrades and $200,000 in additional electric panels, outlets and circuits. Phoenicia Elementary will have $150,000 in electrical service replacement and $40,000 in emergency lighting installed. These projects do not require separate voter approval.
Reductions to the budget were considered mostly due to declining enrollment and some through retirement. These include $98,000 for one elementary teacher, $64,000 for a Social Studies teacher, $42,000 for part time math, $49,000 for an art teacher, $66,000 for a custodian and $65,000 for three teaching assistants.
Additions to staff include $104,000 for a reading teacher, $104,000 for special education teacher, $128,000 for Pupil Personnel Chair and District Wide Assistant Principal (this person will oversee the new teacher’s performance review mandate), $93,000 for head custodian and $53,000 for a ten month typist. Superintendent Dr. Phyllis Spiegel-McGill also returned summer school, now known as the Summer Academic Intervention Support Program for $35,000.
“I have to say I’m pleased we are presenting a zero percent tax levy on the budget and at this time,” School Board President Ann McGillicuddy said. “With our public education budget history, especially in New York State it’s a pretty amazing feat.”
A formal public hearing on the budget will be held at the board of education’s next meeting, that begins at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 7 at the Middle-High School. The district budget vote will be 2 p.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday, May 21, at Woodstock, Phoenicia, Bennett, West Hurley Elementary Schools.
Trustees embarked on a lengthy discussion over whether to adopt a resolution that would protest High Stakes Testing, Race To The Top and No Child Left Behind mandates. Largely symbolic, it states that High Stake Standardized Tests are damaging because they narrow a teachers instruction field. It also states that, “Race To the Top Funding does not adequately address the significant costs associated with the implementation of the new APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review) and Common Core Learning Standards such as hiring professionals to ensure local assessments at grades 3-8 are valid, or other test construction and implementation costs…” The resolution calls for Government officials to drop current mandates or come up with the funds. Trustee Tony Fletcher said he couldn’t support the resolution calling it too vast. “I ask as a board that we carry on doing the work that we’re doing and we carry on lobbying where we lobby and we discuss topics issue by issue and we don’t support a complete blanket statement that really goes against a lot of things that we’re currently doing.” Fletcher pointed out that the district goals, directs teachers to teach above required testing standards.
McGillicuddy said the district is in compliance with mandates through the No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top. However it comes with a high price. “Personally, I think that’s something that was handed to us and we were told we have to do and if we didn’t comply we would lose our State aid and in my mind that’s the Government being a big bully,” said McGillicuddy. In some States it has become noticeable that McGillicuddy discouraged parents from choosing to opt out of standardized tests by keeping their children home on testing day. “I do want to make it clear that this resolution is not calling for parents to opt out of testing, as a board member I can’t advocate for that.”
The resolution was passed by a four-three vote. Trustees in favor were McGillicuddy, Laurie Osmond, Rob Kurnit and Dave McKeon. Trustees who voted against were Fletcher, Tom Hickey and Dan Spencer.