Whittling away at it

Latest Onteora budget draft includes layoffs

by Lisa Childers
February 24, 2011 12:01 PM | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Onteora Central School District board trustees weighed in on preliminary proposals for the 2011/2012 budget that may include at least 30 lay-offs of teaching and non-teaching staff. At Tuesday night’s board of education meeting at Bennett Elementary, Assistant Superintendent for Business Victoria McLaren’s latest draft budget showed a spending increase of .09 percent that would result in a 2.9 percent tax levy increase. McLaren said the total hike in the district’s $50 million budget would be $43,000, while cutting $2.5 million out of a $3.3 million shortfall.

This version would fall significantly below an austerity budget in which a one-percent increase would be allowed, resulting in a 4.12 percent tax levy increase. Districts including Onteora are not expecting any relief from the State, with its revenue and Federal dollars tapped dry. If the district chose to rollover the budget while making up for this loss, it could face an 8.5 percent tax levy increase. Governor Andrew Cuomo additionally has reduced State Aid reimbursement to BOCES services. Board members said it appears Cuomo’s proposal for a two percent tax cap, should it be enacted, will most likely not take affect until 2012-2013 budget season.

“We hear a lot about unfunded mandates going away, we’re not seeing that yet,” said Dr. Phyllis Spiegel-McGill on her first full day as Superintendent. “Only a few in special ed over time…they haven’t been that helpful, so the bottom line is that there’s always more work and less reimbursement.”

Some Regents tests at the High School level are proposed for elimination, saving the district a few expenses. But to date, frustrated school officials are waiting and hoping for some relief.

Trustee Dan Spencer requested the administration begin working with fewer cuts and a higher levy proposal in hopes some reduced mandates will come through adding a boost to the budget. “We should really start at an effective level and work backwards,” Spencer said, “which is the approach I see the other schools take. You start high and you try to keep the things that are most important to you and whittle away from that pile and maybe we don’t have to whittle…” He suggested administrators begin with a 3.9 percent tax levy increase, similar to 2010-2011 levy that passed among voters. This levy would still fall below the austerity line and add an additional million dollars to the budget. Board members agreed that would be a good place to start. McGill said it would give them some, “breathing room, because there are some pretty deep cuts if we’re going to do the 2.9 percent levy (increase).”

Trustee Michael McKeon disagreed. “I would support a levy below contingency (austerity) and leave it at that until we find out where were at,” he said, “and I would like to hear from the public as to what the public is capable or willing to bear at this point.”

The board has scheduled a public forum at its next meeting, 6 p.m.-7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 8 at Phoenicia Elementary. McGill would like to see the public weigh in on the budget before her recommendation on March 22. “I’d rather have their guidance before I present a budget, so I can bring that back to cabinet and we make sure we’re addressing the community’s needs,” she said.

Task Force

After researching various Middle School grade configurations and trends in education, the Middle School Task Force made recommendations that fall in line with past proposals. Similar to KSQ Architects’ findings in 2006, the Middle School Task Force recommended a “distinct and separate MS identity” consisting of grades six-through-eight, located at the High School. The Task Force made no mention of elementary configuration except to add that with this proposal, the pre-kindergarten program could fit into the elementary schools. Some renovation would be needed in order to separate the Middle School from the High School, and enrollment projections could only make this configuration possible after 2013 when enrollment is projected to drop to a suitable level.

Currently, the Middle School houses grades seven and eight.

The chair of the task force, Bennett Principal Gabriel Buono, presented its conclusions after reviewing and researching configurations such as grades Kindergarten-through-eight, Middle school five-through-eight, six-through-eight, seven-eight and grades seven-through-twelve. Members of the Task Force included teachers, administrators and the public. Past findings from a Middle School steering committee recommended a five-through-eight middle school. This recommendation was considered but rejected because of higher renovation costs and school age concerns. Bennett elementary was also considered as a Middle School, but was rejected based on cost of renovations, past renovation costs to the elementary school and lack of State Aid.

Interim Superintendent Charlotte Gregory served on the Task Force and said the six-through-eight configuration opens up many educational possibilities. “You’ve done the work and everything else, so now the question is, what does the community want?”


Athletic Director Nicholas Millas announced the latest wins and titles in winter sports, including the fact that Onteora played host to the 2010-2011 Section 9 wrestling tournament. “It was very successful, I want to thank the Onteora community for stepping up and putting on an event that was second to none, I’ve never seen the gymnasium so full of people.” The wrestling team won seven Section 9 champions and overall the team took first place. Seven team members will be competing at State level. The Boys Alpine Ski Team won its Section 9 championship. Katie Klercker and Emily Waligurski won Section 9 individual titles for indoor track. Waligurski set a school record in the 600-meter dash by two seconds.

No name-calling week

High school art teacher Shelly Hamilton and special education teacher Lynn Battista gave a report on No Name Calling Week that took place at the High School between February 14 and February 18. The two presented poetry, writings and student art depicting feelings expressed by victims of bullying or the effects of the use of negative language. High School teachers and staff also made a Pubic Service Announcement about suicide rates as a result of bullying. The PSA will play on rotation through the Time Warner Public Access channel 20. Some of the posters and stories will be sent along to a national competition related to. This event was inspired by The Misfits, a book by James Howe. ++

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