2014 was a challenging year for local school superintendents Deborah Haab in Highland and Maria Rice in New Paltz. Each continues to work with the challenges brought by implementation of the Common Core standards and each saw a capital improvement project come to the forefront after years of working out the details. Highland passed a $17.5 million bond issue in October after the rejection of a $25 million project the previous December, but New Paltz failed to convince voters to pass their $52.9 million project. After their bond proposal failed by just 150 votes in October, the New Paltz Board of Education decided that the problem was a lack of information about the project within the community — along with last-minute misinformation from an anonymous source — and they will try again with the same exact bond proposal up for a vote on Tuesday, January 27.
Superintendents Rice and Haab both recently spoke with New Paltz Times to discuss what happened in their respective districts in 2014 and where they believe the next set of challenges lie.
Deborah Haab, Highland Central School District schools superintendent since March, 2009
What are the main issues facing your district?
Building the budget is always a challenge as we balance the tax levy limit and not wanting to overburden our taxpayers. And we continue to be challenged by the Gap Elimination Adjustment, compounded by the Foundation Aid formula being frozen. I don’t believe we’re getting the support we should be getting from Albany for public education; and not just the financing of it, but some of the statements that our leaders at the state level make, like ‘I’m going to break the public education monopoly.’ That doesn’t paint us in a very favorable light; we continue to struggle with getting a bad rap. But when you look at what I see happening here in Highland, we’re really doing some great things with kids. But we struggle with the financial support as well as being supported as public education institutions.
What are your top three priorities for 2015?
We want to work with our design team moving forward with our building project, to make sure that we maximize all of the work that’s been proposed and approved. Certainly we want to continue to work with our staff on instructional strategies that will support and enhance our instruction for our students. We’re doing a lot of exciting things this year with flipped classrooms, blended learning… and we’re hoping to see some of those initiatives expand across the district. Students are the priority; between the project, all the work that’s being done in the classrooms, and starting work on our 2015-2016 school budget, all those things come together to support our students. We’re looking forward to bringing those three things together to make a better future for our kids.
Looking back at 2014, what do you see as your major accomplishments?
We’re very pleased to have the community support for our operating budget and certainly excited to have their support for the $17.5 million capital project. I know those things represent money, but the budget is the financial reflection of your educational program and the same thing applies to the building project; taking care of our infrastructure and making sure that we’re safe and we’re energy efficient… having support for those things has been very important for the district. This was also our second year of providing our staff professional development opportunities through the New York State Education Department grant that we won the year before, so we’re continuing to see the benefits of that, as well.
And is there anything you would have done differently this past year?
Reflecting on the first building project vote, perhaps we would have enlisted the community volunteer group sooner. [The Facilities Needs Review Committee was put together by the BOE to assist in re-thinking the project after the $25 million project failed at the polls.] I don’t know if it would have changed the outcome, but perhaps having that kind of a committee formed earlier in the process would have been helpful. But we’re very pleased with the second vote.