The Onteora District Board of Education unanimously approved a new five-year teachers contract at its April 20 Board of Education meeting at Phoenicia Primary School. The contract is retroactive to July 1, 2015 beginning with a one-percent salary increase and over the next five-years, until July 1, 2019, teacher salaries will increase yearly to a maximum of 1.3 percent.
Corey Cavallaro, Onteora Teachers Association President explained in a separate interview that in the past, salaries would increase on average, 2.5 percent annually, but the tax-cap now drives increases. “With the tax-cap, to ask for a larger percent on raises is implausible,” he said, and added that comparable salaries in Ulster County place Onteora somewhere in the middle.
Interim Superintendent Victoria McLaren released a statement on behalf of herself, Cavallaro, OTA Vice President Scott Via, and School Board president Bobbi Schnell. It states, “We are pleased to confirm that the Onteora Board of Education and the Onteora Teacher’s Association have both ratified a contract settlement. We were able to work together to arrive at a contract settlement that will allow the District to move forward and keep our collective focus on our students.”
In recent years contracts have had three-year terms, and were considered “abnormal,” according to Cavallaro, while five-year contracts reflect an “economy that is perceived to be well.” Teacher contribution to health care premiums will increase from 12-to-15 percent over the course of the five years, however teachers are offered a new health care option that is an EPO (Exclusive Provider Organization), where the district will pick up 100 percent of the premium for the next four years. This is a more cost effective option for the district and teachers.
Budget approved; will go to voters
The Board of Education approved the 2016/17-district budget of $53,222,778 or a 3.03 percent spending increase compared to the 2015/16 budget of $51,656,975. With voter approval on May 17, the tax levy will increase 1.16 percent or $469,806, with local taxpayers picking up $41,077,250 of the budget. The allowable tax cap was set at zero percent according to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), however with some district carryovers, school officials were able to set it slightly higher while adhering to mandated, standard majority voter approval of fifty-percent.
There are no significant cuts made to the budget. Additions include a School Resource Officer, Director of Technology, Network Support Specialist, Junior Varsity Football Coach (for a returning team), an extended summer school program, and playground equipment upgrades and repairs made to the Bennett Intermediate school playground. A majority of the budget, or 51.94 percent goes to instruction, and the next major piece, 28.43 percent, goes to employee benefits. Board members and Interim Superintendent McLaren will be meeting with local town boards and community groups to present the budget and answer questions in the upcoming weeks.
Moving ahead on mascot
School representative Reagan Loheide said around 60 students answered a survey about how they view the school Indian Mascot. Additionally, four forums were held for the Middle/High School but no one showed up to one of the forums.
Loheide said opinions were, “all over the place,” but that a majority of the students espoused ideas that leaned towards removing it and requests were made for students to create a replacement. “We kind of tried coming up with what we’re going to do next, in terms of our Mascot,” she said, “and the feeling that student Government got as a whole is that it’s something that we would like to move forward with, in terms of creating a comfortable environment for all of our students, where it’s conducive to learning.” She said many students believe that the mascot is a stereotype. The student Government wanted the Board approval on moving forward, “and ask students’ ideas on a new mascot.” Trustee Laurie Osmond said, “I know you have been working closely with Principal (Lance) Edelman on this process, so I just want to say I support the students taking the initiative on this and the way they’ve been handling it has been great.” Other trustees agreed and directed Loheide to move forward.
McLaren announced that postings are going up throughout school halls and around classrooms reminding employees to turn off computer devices when not in use. “We modified an existing ‘best practices’ for our WiFi and we sent it out to the principals, to share with staff and ask them to post in the buildings,” McLaren said. She also advised that when the devices are not in use, to turn off their WiFi, keep devices on solid surfaces, and keep viewing 12 inches away from screen.