Onteora Central School District Board of Education President Bobbi Schnell resigned her post as a trustee it was announced, with sadness, at Tuesday’s April 4, Board meeting at Phoenicia Elementary School. Vice President Kevin Salem had been filling in for her as she took a leave due to back surgery. Although she was involved behind the scenes, her recovery process met with complications and took the better of her time to heal. In a statement she wrote, “For those of you who know me, you know it is not my style to just up and leave. I’ve put a lot of thought into it, as I take my job very seriously. That said, please know I take every aspect of this position with conviction, and I am grateful to the people who put me in office and trusted me to help carry out the very important role of School Board Trustee. Thank you for trusting me to care for our students.” Schnell apologized, believing she let people down, including herself, but wrote that her doctors advised that she needs to rest or risks permanent damage. “For once, I’m thinking of my future and the possible damage I could be doing by ignoring doctors orders.” Schnell retired as Woodstock Elementary School Principal in 2013, only to return as a volunteer to the school board a year later.
Because the Board is in the middle of budgeting for the next fiscal year and elections are a little more than a month away, the other trustees decided to leave her seat vacant. Salem was elected as board President and longtime board member Laurie Osmond as Vice President. For the upcoming school board election, there will now be four vacancies, instead of three. Schnell had one year left on a three-year term; thus the fourth place finisher in the election will fill her seat on the night of election. The other three seats are for three-year terms, beginning July 1, 2017, running through June 30, 2020. Petitions are still available by going to the district website at Onteora.k12.ny.us, or the Central Office on Route 28 in Boiceville. The deadline to hand in petitions to Central Office is 5 p.m. Monday, April 17. The school board election and budget vote is May 16.
Superintendent’s recommended budget
Superintendent Bruce Watson’s recommended 2017/18 budget presented few cuts from the board’s, but warns of impacts if the tax levy were to be rejected and a contingency budget put in its place. If the budget were rejected, a reduction of $821,297 would be required from the spending blueprint, since the tax levy could not exceed the previous year’s. Additionally, renovation of the High School science lab and Radon remediation at Phoenicia Elementary School would be eliminated since capital projects cannot be funded through the general fund budget. Funds for these projects, approximately $685,000 already exist in the budget and would have no effect on the levy.
Assistant Superintendent for Business Victoria McLaren explained the radon problem. “We took the initiative and tested this (Phoenicia) building based on the structure and there are two spaces that have numbers that are a little high,” she said. “They are not alarmists numbers but we wanted to be proactive and take care of it.” Also if the budget were to be rejected, summer school, equipment and field trips would be eliminated.
The recommended budget comes in at $54,296,155, a two percent increase, $1,073,377 above 2016/17. Most of this — $957,904 — is due to increased employee health insurance. The tax levy is projected to have an increase of 2.02 percent, or possibly less once State aid is finalized. McLaren explained that the state aid projection traditionally tends to be more conservative until the budget is finalized. “At this point our intention would be any increased state aid we get would be used to reduce the levy and give back to taxpayers, especially when we don’t know when the State budget will be adopted…” she said.
Programs will not be eliminated, however two special education teachers, one elementary teacher and one school monitor will be eliminated. Slightly more than 50 percent of the budget is spent directly on instruction, with the second largest amount, 29.41 percent, going to employee benefits.
In other business:
School officials held a public hearing for the authorization of up to $200,000 of reserve funds to extend the repair of damaged underground culvert pipe at the Bennett Elementary playground. The repair will extend from the playground to Route 28 and is considered a cost savings since it can take place in one project. One person was in attendance during the public hearing, thus allowing the sound of soft rain outside the front door.
Superintendent Watson announced that more student attendance for State Testing is taking place following the last two years when many students refused to take the tests. Watson said the goal this year was an increase of ten-percent student participation. “In three of the schools we have reached our goal.” Phoenicia increased its attendance by 11 percent, Woodstock by 10 percent and Bennett by 16 percent. “We didn’t do so good at the Middle School, so we have to work on that for next year.”
Trustee Osmond requested once again to revisit later start times for older students. “Back in 2015,” she said, “the projected cost savings per year would be $167,000.” Director of Transportation Nicole Sommer mapped out a configuration that would allow later start times for students by combining transportation in grades 4-through-12. However, Trustee Valerie Storey said it would involve a capital project of over $1 million. “We do not have enough space in the district to park buses,” Storey said.
Osmond said, “I want to have a discussion involving the director of transportation as to ask even something as simple as why can’t the bus pull up to the High School, why can’t those students get off, then drive up to the same street as they usually drive up for Bennett students and drop them off.” Scientific research appears to reveal that adolescent children have different sleep patterns requiring more sleep.