According to Onteora Central District School Board President Tony Fletcher, the contract of Superintendent Dr. Phyllis Spiegel-McGill will not be renewed and “the Board will at a future meeting discuss the process of a new Superintendent search.”
At its January 28 meeting at Woodstock Primary school, (held a day late due to inclement weather), the Board of Education met in executive session to discuss McGill’s contract and neither the superintendent nor Fletcher will make any further public comment. The cut off date for the Board to accept or decline renewing her contract is June 2015 and her contract expires at the end of June 2016 giving her nearly one and a half years left with the district. Recently it was posted on Cohoes school district website that McGill was one of four semi-finalists for that district’s Superintendent position. However McGill withdrew her application when she discovered it would not fit within her contractual three-month notice for leaving. She sought the position, she said, in order to be closer to her family who live in the Cohoes area.
Later during the board meeting, McGill presented the Superintendent’s Goals for 2014/15 and their progress. Later start times for secondary students are in the process of discussion with a shared decision making team. Three meetings have been held and speakers from area schools have been invited in order to learn how the process can be successful without interfering with morning or evening activities. Other goals include, district and community culture and climate, five year financial plan with projections completed during the summer, a professional learning community organized by grade or subjects to help set learning goals, aligned Kindergarten-through-12 curriculum alignment, and technology infrastructure upgrades.
Trustees Rob Kurnit, Gideon Moor and Fletcher ventured into a heated debate over how to allocate approximately $320,000 of funds set aside for playground improvements at Phoenicia and Woodstock primary schools. The facilities committee recommendations were made to have 55 percent or $176,000 allocated to Woodstock school, and 45 percent or $144,000 to Phoenicia school. Any amount less for Phoenicia school could run the risk of inadequate funding for a new playground. However an argument was made that a 60/40 split would allocate an additional $16,000 to Woodstock school and be equal based upon the populations of the two schools. Woodstock school currently holds 241 students and Phoenicia, 161 students. Moor disagreed with the recommended 55/45 formula noting that it was not an equitable arrangement based upon the population between the two schools and towns. “I’m feeling a bit frustrated to be honest with you, with this formulation,” he said.
Kurnit said, “But that’s what the committee did, if you don’t like what the committee did, so be it, that’s how we explained what the committee recommendations were.”
Moor: “At the last board meeting I expressed the same objection to that formulation — it’s not rational…”
Kurnit: “This was based on feedback that we got from the last board meeting and I just wanted to reiterate what we are looking for from the board is consensus, it’s not a vote, the voting has already been done in terms of the allocation of the funds.”
Moor: “If you know something I don’t and I don’t believe you do, that there is going to be an influx of students in Phoenicia and a decrease in Woodstock — Woodstock has fifty-percent more students than Phoenicia. Also the community at large that utilize these spaces, Woodstock has twice the population than the town of Shandaken. I cannot understand the formulation.”
Kurnit and Fletcher both stated that the boundary lines between the two towns are fuzzy and it’s difficult to know how many people use each playground.
Fletcher: “I really believe in one Onteora and however we frame our conversations we need to recognize we are all part of the same community and as trustee Kurnit pointed out, boundaries can change. We’ve seen that in the last few years with the reconfiguration and I do understand why there would be more money for one school than another based on population and use, but I really want to caution us to speak about our schools in positive terms. I don’t want to see us go down the path that one school deserves something more than the other.”
Fletcher decided to put the facilities committee recommendation to an informal vote. Trustees Laurie Osmond, Bobbi Schnell, and Moor voted against the facilities committee recommendation of a 55/45 percent split. Trustee Ann McGillicuddy could not decide and Trustee Tanya Davis was absent. Fletcher and Kurnit voted in favor.
Moor: “I resent the suggestion that I’m thinking about the expenditure of district funds which should be benefiting all students of this district in a partisan way, I think you are impugning my capacity to see past my town residency.”
Fletcher: “I regret you feel that way.”
Moor: “But I think that was the impression left.”
Flectcher: “Let’s keep it civil.”
On a second vote for a 60/40 split, Osmond, Schnell, Moor and McGillicuddy voted in favor. Woodstock school will receive $191,840 and Phoenicia $128,159.
Assistant Superintendent for Business Victoria McLaren presented an update on the 2015/16 projected $52 million school budget. “We do not have State Aid projections,” she said. “Last year State aid projections were received on January 21 and the final aid was provided on March 28.” She noted that aid projections are being stalled because Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed that unless education “reforms are passed, no district would be eligible for an increase in aid over its 2014/15 level.” School reforms include increased allowance in Charter Schools, increased teacher evaluation, bonus to successful teachers and removing ineffective teachers. If the legislation passes, proposed reforms — around a dozen in all, will allow an increase of 4.8 percent or $1.1 billion of state aid for education. If the reforms are not passed, the existing formula of 1.7 percent or $337 million in aid for education will be used.
Based upon a Board inquiry, McLaren presented the latest data of Health Insurance premiums paid for 2013/14. Employee coverage totals $4,172,046, and of that amount taxpayers contribute $3,729,054 and employees contribute $442,992. Retiree coverage is $3,252,188 with taxpayer contribution of $3,021,368 and retiree contribution of $230,820.