The Onteora Central School district new eagle mascot was revealed at Tuesday’s December 20, Board of Education meeting at Woodstock Elementary school. Student Representative Gabrielle Raphael presented two eagle images that were designed by students (no names given), one for a mural and the other for the school logo. She said an announcement was made to students on Monday, December 19 and the images were displayed in the hallways.
Earlier during the meeting, acting School Board President Kevin Salem read a statement regarding the mascot and public input. He felt the need to speak up after being contacted by other trustees who expressed unease at what was perceived as threatening language during public commentary at the December 6 board meeting. Salem was absent for that meeting and did not mention names, but district resident Doug Eighmey was the only person who spoke during public commentary at that time. Eighmey’s comment at the meeting that his action regarding replacement of the old Indian mascot toward the district was “not gonna be pretty,” was seen by some as threatening. In a separate interview with Woodstock Times, Eighmey said he planned to seek legal action, but that was never detailed during public commentary. He also at that time, announced his intent to return to the December 20 meeting, but he was not present.
Salem’s lengthy pre-written statement, he said, was not on behalf of the board but he was “speaking individually.” He sought legal advice on how he could make the statement and still sit as board president.
Salem read from his statement. “There is a district code of conduct that prohibits the use of threatening or disrespectful language.” Because of the historic and current vitriol surrounding the mascot, Salem said, “please be aware that your comments don’t exist in a vacuum, and if you can’t find any other reason to exhibit respect and a sense of decorum, at least temper them for the sake of the students who may be watching, including our student representative.”
Salem said that both sides exhibited passion for the issue. “Believe me, we have heard it all: from deep gratitude and people telling us it’s about time, to people threatening to lynch us, to sue us, to vote down the district budget out of spite, and that specific people would be targeted in the campaign for three open board seats next May.” The new mascot is moving forward, Salem explained, and trustees who voted in favor to remove the old mascot view it not as a victory, but “just a change whose time had come.”
2017/18 budget preview
Budget season for the 2017/18 fiscal school-year begins in January and Assistant Superintendent for Business Victoria McLaren gave a preview on what’s to come. School officials have already begun the process of budget review and have highlighted some issues in need of thought. Health insurance premiums appear at this point to see a significant increase, possibly 10 percent. “The claims experience that we’ve seen has been somewhat extraordinary,” said McLaren. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) projection is zero-to-one percent and this will steer the tax cap. Because the district did not utilize the full tax cap for 2016/17 budget, approximately $175,000 will be able to be added to the tax levy. BOCES services have seen a drop from 2015/16 to 2016/17 of 3.28 percent and contract transportation has dropped by 4.69 percent.
Superintendent Charles Khoury of BOCES gave an annual review of Onteora’s $3.2 million budget with that organization. He said that $1.8 million of the budget carries a 36 percent State aid give back. “You are land wealthy,” said Khoury, “you get the lowest aid ratio that’s permitted by law.” He called the formula “convoluted” and said other districts in Ulster County have higher ratios of 55-65 percent aid. Special Education, English Language Arts (ELA), and transportation are not eligible for aid since they receive State aid under a different umbrella. Overall, Onteora student participation in BOCES is 73 out of 1,148.
Some of the student highlights include an electric car that went from El Paso Texas to Minneapolis, Minnesota; coming in first place in New York State culinary competition and seventh in a national contest in Texas; and NASA identifying Ulster BOCES as an up and coming tech school, in which students are sent problems such as designing a tool box for astronauts.
How much or how little homework students get in each grade is back in discussions. All trustees agree that homework for students tends to be all over the place when it comes to time committed, and Trustee Laurie Osmond said the district has a very general policy. “I think there are a lot of policies that school districts across the country use and some of them have been studied, data collected, results documented, so it’s important we address this as a board,” she said.
Superintendent Bruce Watson said, “I think a lot of the concern is in grade 4-6 level and I think we can all work together.” He said there is, “philosophy in that area — is homework beneficial, is it really something that is necessary? If you give someone 20 problems will they learn something, will they learn a concept?” He said over the past few years Onteora has had surveys, and discussed the topic with teachers and principals. “Now it’s time for a focus group and let’s narrow this down.”