Onteora Central School District Interim Assistant Superintendent for Business Don Gottlieb presented newly released State Aid numbers for the 2016/17 school year that indicated a small increase to the district of $180,798, with a hope, he said, that the State Legislature might increase that number.
At the January 19 Board of Education meeting at the Middle/High School, Gottleib compared the 2015-2016 state aid figure of $7,960,729 to the projected 2016-2017 number of $8,141,527. The total Onteora budget for the current school year calls for $51.7 million in spending.
The actual basic State Foundation aid will see no change at $6,668,097. But, according to Gottlieb, the State “gimmick” — the so-called Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), an obscure formula that takes away state aid with one hand after it has been bestowed by the other — is being eliminated in
yearly bits and pieces. The GEA, conceived as a way to plug state budget shortfalls by taking back money that, in public had been granted to the districts, cost Onteora $1.37 million a few years back. Last year, the state restored $473,579 of that. This year Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed to restore another $268,934.
“They have been trying to restore GEA over the last couple of years as the State is more flush with money,” Gottlieb said. “And what they’ve been doing is working primarily with the poor districts…Unfortunately, Onteora by the measures that they use, tends to be rated as a wealthier district.” The calculation is based on property values and the value of the Ashokan Reservoir, the taxes of which are paid by New York City. “We have a fairly large gap elimination compared to other districts,” Gottleib said. “We had been in hopes that it would get eliminated completely, but it appears that the Governor is going to hold that off for another year.”
On the tax levy side of the budget, the allowable limit of the tax-cap will be set for Onteora at a 1.83 percent increase or $744,252, increasing the allowable amount to be collected by taxes to $41.3 million. The tax cap is based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and set at .12 percent. However, with allowable exclusions, such as having come in under the cap in previous years, the district can carry over $448,947 thus allowing the district tax levy to slightly exceed the cap for the coming year. But, Gottleib said, “that is probably less than what we are looking at in teacher salary increases.”
Board goals regarding cyberbullying
The board reviewed its goals for 2015/16 school year, emphasizing ethics, community and culture, with trustees citing recent allegations of cyber-bullying. “I would consider this a work in progress personally,” said trustee Laurie Osmond, “especially in light of some of the student-to-student threats the board has been made aware of and [what] has happened over social media the past few months. And there [are] probably things the board is not aware of.” She said the board is currently working on providing assemblies and, “I’m hoping that it will be of the quality where there is some genuine interaction, and learning and soul searching, and that we are trying to be innovative and reach the people who are communicating hate.”
No more task force, but WiFi debate continues
Following the Board’s decision to dismantle its WiFi task force, a few people who were on the task force and are against having wireless in classrooms based upon health concerns, spoke during public commentary. Chris Finlay presented a letter from David O. Carpenter, M.D., and Director for the Institute for Health and the Environment, at SUNY Albany. It was addressed to School Board President Bobbi Schnell. Carpenter explained in the letter that he was a co-editor of the Bioinitiative report, published in 2007 that reviewed adverse health effects of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields. The report gives a correlation between elevated electromagnetic fields and elevated risk of childhood leukemia. “While that particular study did not investigate radiofrequency fields such as those from WiFi, many of the risks are similar,” the letter stated. Carpenter also called the electromagnetic fields exposure levels of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), “outdated.” The recommendation from Carpenter was to err on the side of caution and remove WiFi in classrooms.
Elementary or Intermediate?
The board discussed the possibility of changing the designations of Bennett, Woodstock and Phoenicia schools back to ‘Elementary,’ as they were called when each housed grades K-6. Currently, Woodstock and Phoenica contain the district’s Kindergarten through grade 3 students and are designated as ‘Primary’ schools, while Bennett teaches grades 4 through 6 and is called ‘Intermediate.’ Board president Schnell felt that ‘Intermediate’ seemed too much like the name of a middle school when describing grades four-through-six. Trustees agreed to send the proposal to the school principals for further input.