Onteora Central School District Superintendent Victoria McLaren announced a few items of concern after watching a Webinar on School State Aid provided by the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA). At the January 23 Board of Education meeting at Bennett School, McLaren said additional State Aid proposed for 2018/19 school year is approximately $17,000 or as she put it, “pretty much essentially flat.” With a district budget of approximately $52 million, the small increase is expected to have minimal impact.
McLaren also mentioned Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to move forward on more capping of expense-based aid at two-percent beginning in 2020. “The cap would be including transportation, BOCES, and building aid,” she said. Cuomo has already capped school districts at two-percent or the current Consumer Price Index (CPI) whichever is lowest. Lastly, McLaren said, “Something worth watching; he (Cuomo) has put a proposal out there for reporting our expenses by building. His next proposal seems to take that to the next level for the big five city school districts along with those districts who have at least nine schools and receive at least fifty-percent of their revenue from State Aid.” The big five are, New York City, Yonkers, Buffalo, Syracuse, and Rochester. She continued, “He is proposing that they would be required to have their building level spending plan approved by State Ed — that would basically take local control and school board autonomy away.” She said this would not have an effect for Ontoera in the short term, but “would be a huge step, that we should be very concerned with.”
PILOT for Waterfall Way?
In other financial news that may be cause for concern, Trustee Laurie Osmond announced that there would be a public hearing on Woodstock Way hotel proposal for Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) at 7 p.m. Thursday, February 1, at the Mescal Hornbeck Community Center, 56 Rock City Road, Woodstock. The hotel located on Waterfall Way behind the Center for Photography in Woodstock, is upgrading its facilities including an expansion on its footprint. It seeks to have $335,381 in property taxes waved over the course of ten years and this may or may not reflect school taxes. Assistant Superintendent for Business Monica LaClair was not made aware that the proposal existed and was never contacted by the Ulster County IDA (Industrial Development Agency). She is not sure if the project would have any impact on taxpayers and if so, in her opinion it would be minimal based upon a $40 million levy local taxpayers already pay.
According to the PILOT document, the hotel property is owned by Tannery Brook Real Estate LLC, located in Hoboken New Jersey and was purchased for $583,750 and currently pays $17,671 in property taxes. Additionally, it seeks to waive $198,000 in state sales tax and $24,198 in mortgage tax. The property currently has an assessed value of $875,000 and once improvements are complete will have an assessed value of $2.8 million.
Bus driver shortage
Trustee Valerie Storey said she’s received complaints about transportation and field trips that are postponed at the last minute. “What can we do about this?” she asked. “Our bus company is fabulous, but we have a contract with these people.” The district contract is with Bernie Bus Company.
LaClair said, “I just met with the contractor today. Unfortunately the issue is not buses, but bus drivers. Right now our contractor brings in ten bus drivers from Utica/Rome area every Monday, keeps them here for the week and sends them back home on Friday.” Bernie Bus Company is making attempts to hire employees but testing from the Department of Transportation has become more rigorous. LaClair said, “You now have to know the parts of the engine as part of the test, not so much just driving the bus, you have to know what’s inside the bus.” She said it’s taking a very long time. The district is considering a separate bid on a contract for field trips for next year.
Bennett Grade five science teachers presented a robotics program titled VEX IQ that has been a big hit among students. Teacher Kelly Downs demonstrated a robotic style forklift that students assembled and wrote code for in order to communicate to a computer. Downs explained that the students work at their own pace and in groups. Each project comes unassembled with thousands of pieces for students to work on together and often will become so involved that they will meet after school.
The program is available to grade five students only, though next year it will expand to grade six. Downs said he hopes in the future they can compete with other school districts.
Osmond announced that the district Homework survey is complete and will be presented at February 20 Board of Education meeting at the Middle/High School.