West Hurley Elementary School will soon be back on the market according to school officials, after the buyer announced by the Board of Education last October apparently backed out of the deal. According to Interim Superintendent Victoria McLaren the potential buyer, Phillip LaPorta, president of The Center for the Investigation of Native and Ancient Quarries, Inc (CINAQ) pulled out due to lack of funding. “Unfortunately we were unable to come to a conclusion with that sale and our contract with the existing realtor expired,” McLaren said.
At the April 5 Board of Education meeting at Bennett Intermediate School, Trustees discussed finding a new realtor. The past contract was with Win Morrison Realty, which entered into an agreement with the district October 2014 for nine-months with an asking price on the former school of $1 million. CINAQ offered $700,000 for the 36-acre parcel that included the 32,262 square foot Levins building. West Hurley School closed in 2004. The district will be submitting a new RFP (request for proposal) to area realtors immediately, with a return date at the start of the new school fiscal year in July.
Student Representative Raegan Loheide updated the Board on a survey about the Onteora Indian Mascot that was submitted to students through the student Government. “There were two questions asked,” Loheide said. “What is your position on the current Mascot, and kids have open comment section on that, and the second one was what would you like student Government’s next step to be regarding this topic.”
She described various opinions ranging from students drawing new Mascots to replace the Indian Mascot, and doing nothing, a course that would preserve the controversial figure. “We had comments about people not caring; how our student Government should be focusing on other things like bullying and drugs,” she said. “Finally we had comments about how something has to be done and how kids feel that we don’t have school spirit because of our Mascot and it’s disrespectful, so there are a really wide range of opinions.”
In 2015 the Human Rights Club posted an online petition to remove the Mascot, followed by a counter petition to keep it. This is not the first time the Mascot has been a controversial issue. In 2000 the community became divided when the Mascot was removed by the Board of Education. This resulted in contentious School Board elections, and with a new majority the decision to remove the Mascot was overturned and has remained since.
During public commentary, student Jack Warren, Vice President of the Human Rights Club, spoke in favor of its removal. “The Indian Mascot,” he said, “goes beyond a matter of taste or school spirit, it negatively impacts the Student Body and degrades the learning environment.” He mentioned policies such as the state’s Dignity for All Students Act, and advocacy groups such as the American Psychological Association, who frown upon schools using “racial stereotypes” including an Indian Mascot.
Interim Superintendent for Business Don Gottlieb presented the 2016/17-district budget of $52,772,778, a $1.15 million or 2.16 percent spending increase. The tax cap levy increase, based upon the Consumer Price Index (CPI) is set at zero, however Onteora has allowable carryovers. With that included the tax levy was set at a 1.29 percent increase.
This was the last draft before the school board budget adoption vote on Wednesday, April 20 at Phoenicia Primary School. After board approval, the budget goes to the voters of the district.
In its state budget, New York restored all but the $52,712 of the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), that accounts for an increase of $370,158 in the budget. The State Foundation aid from this year to next year will remain flat at $6.668 million. “When you look at the foundation aid from 15/16-16/17, that is the bulk of the aid that you get, there is no increase at all,” Gottlieb said. He continued, “I don’t anticipate that you are going to get an increase next year and if they really, truly apply the formulas, you might even go into a decreasing situation because of the fact that the pupil base is decreasing.”
Increased budget items include restoring a School Resource Officer (SRO) at an expense of $85,739 for a one-year contract. Trustees discussed having an SRO and will continue discussions at the next meeting, however all trustees seem to favor the return of one. The board does not need to vote on the specific position, but during agenda adoption can choose to remove the SRO position. Based upon recent school shootings and the opioid epidemic, all trustees appear to favor restoring an SRO, that at one time was funded through the State. This means local taxpayers will pick up the bill. The Health Insurance rate increase was finalized at 6.79 percent, however existing enrollment plans show a reduction by $119,960.
Onteora used a snow day on April 4 due to snowy weather. Therefore one snow-day give back was restored and school will be in session Friday, April 22. The other give back days where school will not be in session are, April 29, May 27, and May 31.
Grades three-through-eight had their State English Language Arts (ELA) exams and the student Opt Out percentage was at 61 percent. This goes on par with last year’s students who chose not to take the exams at 63 percent.
Last call to hand in School Board candidate petitions. The deadline is 5 p.m., Monday April 18 and the petition must have at least 25 signatures of qualified voters who reside in the Onteora district. There are five vacancies to be filled: two for three years, and three for one year. The three one-year seats fill unexpired terms of Ann McGillicuddy, Gideon Moor, and Tanya Davis, who all resigned this past year. The three lowest voter getter candidates will receive a one-year term. Anyone interested in running for the Board can find a petition at onteora.k12.ny.us. Election is May 17. As of Friday, April 8, only one candidate had surfaced, incumbent Rob Kurnit.