The Onteora Central School District board of education voted to create a new Capital Reserve fund that will be put on the ballot seeing voter approval May 17, during school budget and board elections. If approved, the reserve would accumulate leftover money from the budget for the sake of continuing district renovations. The fund can collect up to $8 million over the course of seven years. Additionally, once the money is collected it must be voter approved when a request is made to spend it. After seven years, if the money has not been utilized, it will return to taxpayers.
The district is due for its State Mandated facilities study, one that must be conducted every five years, and will outline what upgrades are needed. In 2011, voters approved a five-year, $5 million reserve and authorized its use in 2014 with an additional $2 million from another fund. With costs escalating, not all building renovations were completed and improvements are still needed.
Interim Assistant Superintendent for Business Dr. Don Gottlieb updated the Board on the 2016/17-district budget process. As numbers from the State are being fine tuned, Gottlieb is looking at a possible budget increase of 1.34 percent or $693,937. The draft budget projects an increase from $51.6 million to $52.3 million. The allowable tax-cap levy increase is set at 1.61 percent. At a previous board meeting, a Director of Technology position was approved and the cost will be reflected in next years budget, however the board rescinded the proposal until a job description is made for the new position.
Peoples WiFi Task Force notice
A group calling itself The Peoples WiFi Task Force says that it “has put on notice” each member of the board of education that they will be “personally liable for not disabling the OCS (Onteora Central School) WiFi System” so that “any parent in the future whose child gets harmed from the schools WiFi system [may] take legal action…”
The group documented numerous previous missives its members have conveyed to the board describing studies it has found and citing a multitude of documents from experts in the field, warning on the possible health risks to children.
Interim superintendent Victoria McLaren had no comment.
In January, during an executive session the school board disbanded the Onteora WiFi Task Force without notice or a vote during public session. The Task Force was charged with determining whether WiFi should be kept or disbanded in the lower grades, regarding health concerns.
A Freedom of Information request revealed that a member of the Task Force had threatened to sue the district if WiFi wasn’t removed. This apparently resulted in the Board disbanding the group during an executive session.
Steve Romine a member of the Peoples WiFi Task Force, during Tuesday’s public commentary, spoke against the executive session. Romine said advice from the state Committee on Open Government told him “you cannot go into executive session for simply somebody casually mentioning or even threatening a law suit. It has to be a litigation process and you have to name the litigation when you go into executive session. So I know you did it innocently, but you did it and it’s an improper action taken by the BOE and was held in secret when it should have been in public.”
Oral History project
Middle School Principal Jennifer O’Connor announced that children in grade eight English participated in StoryCorp, an oral history archive project through the National Library of Congress. StoryCorp can be heard every Friday on National Public Radio (NPR) and three Onteora participants were chosen for the Friday slot. The students have been participating for the past two years, however O’Connor said this was, “The most successful year.” The topic, she said, was “The First Great Listen, over Thanksgiving,” in which teens interviewed elders over the holiday. The project has over 100,000 participants throughout the country, listing various interview topics such as military, immigration, family and 9/11. Search for it at storycorps.org.