The Cuomo Manifesto

It’s April 1 and the final budget bill was approved by lawmakers last night. Rather than discussing the insanity of the last few days with ill planned proposals for education reform, I’m going to concentrate on the implications for us in the 2015-16 school year.

Information may be forthcoming that will make the changes clearer, but as a district leader I think I owe it to our school community to discuss how I see this playing out for us, at least based on the information we have today. If you’re reading this from another part of the state and you see the governor’s education reform differently, please allow that I’m writing this from my perspective in our district. I respect and understand that a piece of the reform like “receivership” may loom large for you; I’m writing from a Randolph Central perspective for our teachers and parents and BOE members.

There’s a lot being written about changes that I don’t see as big changes at all. Either it’s already in the plan, it’s modified very little or it’s manageable.  Let’s consider those first. Under the NOT A BIG DEAL category:

  1. Requiring teachers and administrators to register with NYSED every four years. (2016-17) Those of us old enough to have “lifetime” or permanent certification must register every five years.
  2. Requiring 100 hours of PD as a condition of that re-registration. (2016-17)
  3. Probationary period of four years instead of three years. Commencing with persons appointed on or after July 1, 2015. (Hey, I’m a district leader, I like this change.)
  4. Two categories with multiple measures within each: Student performance and Teacher observation.
  5. Educators who teach English and math to 3rd-8th graders to be partially evaluated on NYS test results and Regents teachers evaluated on Regents results.
  6. Teachers whose courses don’t end in state exams will be evaluated based on “student learning objectives”.
  7. NYSED approved local assessments (iReady for us) may be used as a second test.

Under the COULD BE A BIG DEAL category:

  1. One of the two required teacher observations will be performed by an “independent” evaluator, who can be a principal or administrator from another school within the district. Thank goodness we don’t have to hire someone to do a job we’re already paid to perform! So consider the plan we have now. The building principal usually does one formal and one informal (more if a probationary teacher). Now the building principal will do the formal and the teacher may have the second, informal evaluation conducted by the principal from the other building, the assistant principal, the director of pupil personnel services, or me. We could even allow teachers to list a preference of RCS administrator for the second evaluation and work to accommodate that request.
  2. Pair #5 and #7 above and we have what we have now for the student performance piece of this, teachers of Math and ELA, grades K-8. If iReady isn’t approved as a second test, I cannot imagine us considering MORE testing as an option.
  3. Teachers whose courses don’t end in state exams will be evaluated based on “student learning objectives”, which will be developed by the state. About 80% of our educators teach courses that don’t end with state exams. This change is simply LUDICROUS. NYSED does not have the capacity to determine SLOs for every music, PE, non-Regents, agriculture, PE, SPED teacher in our districts. But hey, I already see little value in the SLO piece of the current APPR Plan, so maybe this should only be listed under the NOT A BIG DEAL category. It’s far from equitable to what the 3-8 math and ELA or Regents teachers face.
  4. The State Education Department “shall determine the weights and scoring ranges” and “set parameters for appropriate targets for student growth” for the required and optional components and sub-components of the rating system. Yeah, good luck with that–how on earth do they think they’re going to do this and accurately identify the ineffective teachers across the state (within 700+ districts) who they deem need to be replaced? And who do they think is going to replace them? Poppycock.
  5. Additional funds subject to the implementation of an APPR by November 15, 2015 consistent with the provisions outlined in the enacted budget and subsequent regulations. Why not? I’ve personally already spent at least 100 hours on the development and subsequent approval process for the plan they mandated and we negotiated. What’s another 100+ hours?

Please focus on what matters and do NOT become caught up in the state budget reforms. We’re doing good things for our RCS students each and every day. Students and employees are safe and loved and supported. Everyone here has worked incredibly hard to align our curriculum to the more rigorous common core standards, we’ve raised expectations and our students are learning more–all excellent improvements in our own education reform. We’re challenging all students now, not just our most challenged students. We will figure this out together, do the best for our students and school community, and continue to improve with support.

We are public school educators, committed to the students we serve. We love our work and we will not be downtrodden because of the rhetoric and demands of politicians who are elected, given our trust to wield their power wisely, and then seldom fail to disappoint.

Capital Project Consideration

The purpose of this post is to help our community understand the process of developing a capital project and about how the financing works. This is not a simple post–it’s a complicated, lengthy topic and I will do my best to keep it straightforward. Please know that I write this in an effort to be transparent about our process. When my mom was alive she always provided me with feedback about my blog posts. She definitely would have said this one is TOO LONG and BORING. 😉

Our BOE is considering two contingent propositions for possible presentation for a public vote on March 24, 2015.

In the summer of 2013 the Randolph Board of Education and I began the process of evaluating and planning for a proposed capital project.  Every district conducts a five year plan that is submitted to the NYS Education Department and in that plan, we analyze all aspects of our buildings and grounds to identify and prioritize our areas of need. Good planning means identifying critical items and then putting them together in a capital project to minimize the local share of expenses–in our case an approved capital project that meets all of the guidelines of NYSED will result in about an 83.5% state share.

For Randolph Central, the structural, health and safety items –critical items– at this time include things such as replacing pumps, balancing valves, upgrade ventilation, replacing steam piping, improving state lighting controls and replacing stage rigging. The items also include things like replacement floors, a handicap toilet room in the elementary school, security cameras, urinal replacements, a few rooftop replacements, track replacement and some ADA required interior door hardware. I often refer to these items as the “non-glamorous” items, those things we NEED to take care of to be good stewards of our facilities and grounds.

The first possible proposition that the BOE is considering putting before the public for a vote, our essential NEED based items total almost $3 million dollars. Those items, from the very beginning in the summer of 2013, have been our priority. Taking care of what we already have and maintaining it–that’s what the BOE has directed me to do from day one in considering a project.

In planning any project, community input is valuable. We put out notices asking for volunteers to work with us. The BOE members and I formed a facilities committee to consider any other needs and or wants that we may have as a school district that would improve our facilities, our programs, or our services to students and the community.

A well meaning group of people met with us through the fall and winter of the 2013-14 school year to brainstorm those things that would improve our school district. No one’s ideas were immediately dismissed and everything from a swimming pool to a community center to new sports fields were discussed. The BOE facilities committee then met with me throughout the spring and summer to consider those suggestions and to try to determine the best course of action.

A major priority from the beginning of our work was to improve the traffic flow, configuration and parking on our campus. The safety of our students and community are our #1 priority, along with the essential NEED based items described above.  A lengthy process began in which we evaluated many different options for improving traffic flow with parent drop off locations, bus only zones, clear student walkways, and more parking. For a long time we talked about a demolition of the bus garage that sits right in the middle of our campus. We ultimately determined that this was not something everyone could support.

The final traffic flow plan drastically improves the safety of our campus while maintaining our existing bus garage. This plan, to be detailed in upcoming capital project presentations, totals about $4 million dollars.

The reality of financing always comes in to play and determining what we as a district and our taxpayers can afford is critical. Think about that 83.5% state share I mentioned in the beginning; where’s the other 17% coming from? We then look at our capital reserves and any unappropriated excess reserves we may have to determine how much we have that can be used to offset the cost to the local taxpayers. To keep it simple, all of that planning results in a project that we can put forward to the taxpayers of about $7 million dollars that will result in a minimal local share. How minimal? This $7 million project would result in a .65% increase or about $2 per year more on an $60,000 home for taxpayers with STAR; a zero increase for Senior STAR taxpayers; and for taxpayers who don’t have STAR because it’s a non-primary residence, it’s about $4 per year added to your taxes on a $60,000 home.

The BOE members are in the final stages of preparing to adopt a resolution to bring this project to the taxpayers. In addition they are considering putting forth a second, contingent (cannot pass unless the first proposition passes) proposition to the voters for a synthetic turf multipurpose field. While there were many other ideas from our original facilities committee that would be improvements for our district, the cost to our taxpayers precludes us from advancing any of them.

A second possible proposition for a mulipurpose synthetic turf field has been much more difficult for our BOE members to agree to put to the taxpayers.  Their dedication to maintaining a fair and reasonable tax levy (share of our budget that is paid for by the local taxpayers) is at odds with the consideration of a proposition to build something that would be NICE to have but isn’t necessarily something we HAVE to have. The BOE’s dedication to this is unquestionable as they have maintained a 0% increase to our taxpayers every year since the 2009-10 school year. That’s six years that our taxpayers have not had an increase, including two years of decreases.

Some think we should leave the decision of a synthetic turf multipurpose field up to the taxpayers. Put the Proposition #2 up for a vote separate from our Proposition #1, NEEDs based project. What kind of money would a separate proposition for this cost? It would be about an additional $2.6 million dollars. The addition of this proposition would result in the cost to the taxpayers increasing to a 4.37% total increase or about $13 per year more on a $60,000 home for taxpayers with STAR; a zero increase for Senior STAR taxpayers; for taxpayers who don’t have STAR because it’s a non-primary residence, it’s about $25 per year added to your taxes on a $60,000 home.

Taxpayers can rest assured that a BOE decision to put a project to the public for a vote has been thoroughly researched and considered. More to follow, look for a BOE discussion and vote on a resolution at the February 4, 2015 BOE meeting with a proposed March vote by the taxpayers.

 

 

School Budgets: Have You Read the Paper?

If you’ve picked up a newspaper lately, you’ve likely read at least an article or two on school budgeting. There’s no doubt you’ve been reading or hearing about the state of the state and our new governor’s preliminary plans for fixing the financial problems of NYS.

I’m glad Governor Cuomo is taking a hard look at State expenditures. I hope he carries through with doing what’s right which isn’t necessarily what’s popular or easy. I’m cautiously optimistic as to whether or not he’ll deliver. I want him to make the hard decisions necessary and I wish they could be based on what’s best for us as a whole, but I know that the heavy lobbying that occurs will ultimately affect what’s done.

What’s all of this mean for RCS?

A significant part of my work is budget planning, particularly at this time of the year, and good fiscal management of the district. All school districts across NYS rely upon state aide to some degree (about 65% at RCS) and face similar challenges with increasing pension, payroll and health insurance costs. I have several meetings per month with different organizations so that I stay as up to date as possible on the challenges and opportunities in education.

How are we faring as a school district? By making the hard decisions necessary, including reductions in staff where feasible over the past two years, we are in a solid financial position. We’ve reduced our health insurance costs by eliminating the more expensive health insurance policy from our negotiated contracts (a savings of $7,000 per family plan per year), we offered the State retirement incentives over the summer of which 14 employees took advantage, including three positions we didn’t replace. Where prudent, we’ve kept our special education students in district, delivering their specialized programs and services ourselves. We’ve worked hard to cut our costs, delivering a 0% increase to our taxpayers over the past 2 years, something we will work hard to do for this upcoming school year. I have every expectation that our taxpayers can count on a 0% increase to the tax levy again.

The bulk of the credit for this solid fiscal management goes to our leadership team: our business official, our building level administrators and managers and their staffs for containing costs, and our Board of Education members for advancing our responsible budgets every year. We’re doing a good job of balancing the program needs of the district with the financial constraints facing our taxpayers. We have fully funded our reserves and continue to plan five years out so that we may stay in this solid position.

I cannot predict where we’re headed with state aide or the economy.  You know how that goes, depends on the day and what I’ve read last. I can tell you that good fiscal management is of paramount importance to me and to our leadership team including our BOE members. Every financial decision we make includes two major considerations: the educational needs of our students and our responsibility to our taxpayers.

Starting at tomorrow night’s BOE meeting, we will examine a section of the budget. This will continue at each meeting through April. You have my word that we will continue to work hard to keep the budget where it is now, with no increase to our taxpayers. Thank you for your continued support of the work that we do.

Maximizing our Assets

It never ceases to amaze me.  Living in a small town and working in a small town–the rumor mill is lightning fast and intermittently accurate. I know it and it still amazes me.

We offered the NYS Part A retirement incentive to our eligible employees and five additional teachers took the incentive. While it means the loss of some of our best educators, it is a good financial decision for the district. Replacing a teacher at the top of the salary schedule with a new teacher cuts the cost of that teacher about in half.

Two of the retirees to take the incentive last week are not being replaced with new teachers.  One of the two has been teaching  part of the day while supervising our In School Suspension program the other part of the day. Our plan for this position is that the Math Department can cover the classes and we plan to hire a teaching assistant to supervise ISS, with at least two hours of teacher coverage in ISS per day. I can hire a teaching assistant for $11.00 per hour versus a new teacher at about $36,000.

The other position is in Technology. This is where the rumor mill has been charged up. We have had three (3) full time Technology teachers at Randolph for the last several years. When the state budget was better, this was a program that the District expanded to offer opportunities for our students. It was done under the leadership of the previous superintendent and the idea was a good one at that time.

With things the way they are in Albany and with our commitment to keeping the tax levy where it is for our taxpayers, we had to consider if it was prudent to keep three full time technology teachers plus an Ag teacher on staff.

There is no other district of our size which employs three full time tech teachers. The opportunities afforded our kids through our amazing Ag program and through our two remaining technology teachers will be ample and rich. And I would argue that they will still be equal to or more than any other district of our size.

Are we eliminating wood shop after we just built that addition? Are we going to have a big,  brand new addition sitting there empty? No sir, just utilizing the faculty we have to our best advantage. I’m certain that Mr. Freeman and Mr. Perison will do a fine job of teaching the technology classes that our children need and want at RCS.

Budget Passes Successfully

I know it’s not very exciting for the rest of the world, but May 18 is a big day when you’re a superintendent. I’d say it’s like the Super Bowl for us, but I’m thinking that’s probably overstating it a bit. I’m grateful and delighted to see that we overwhelmingly passed our budget yesterday and our purchase and refinancing of vehicles. Thank you Randolph.

We worked hard to put forth a budget that is responsible to our taxpayers while maintaining our educational programs. Passing Proposition #1, the Budget, 436 to 122 is gratifying.

This morning I’m also thinking about the eleven candidates who put themselves out there in the public eye by running for the Board of Education. To each of you, I say a huge thank you. It takes courage and dedication to the children of our school district to throw your hat into the ring, particularly in a year with eleven candidates running–it’s more likely you’ll lose than win with four open seats and eleven candidates.

Here are the results:

  • Proposition #1, Budget  Yes 436, No 122
  • Propostion #2, Purchase and Refinancing of Vehicles  Yes 378, No 156

Board Member Vote Results:

338 Michael Evans

318 Daniel Jackson

307 Julie Milliman

271 Thomas Shields (completes the 3 year term vacated by Dan Philblad)

267 Tonia McAllister

147 Carol Luce

144 Timothy Pence Jr.

133 Elizabeth Lerow

113 Robert Gebhard

63 Thomas Deacon

56 Timothy Plaskett

Again, thank you to all of our outstanding candidates and to our community for once again, supporting RCS!

Budget 2010-2011

As we are well aware by now, this is a challenging budget year for everyone, including school districts. The RCS Board of Education, Administration and Staff have worked for months on the 2010-2011 budget with two goals in mind. The first goal has been to maintain a 0% increase to our taxpayers, who we recognize may be struggling in this economic time. The second goal has been to maintain our quality of education and programs for our students to the extent possible.

We are pleased to announce that our 2010-2011 budget accomplishes both goals. How did we do it? Our teachers, staff and administration prepared the individual parts of our budget with a 0% increase in mind, determining to make the amount we had budgeted last year work for us again. At the same time, the Administrative Staff worked to identify those positions that we could consider for reductions. With the Governor’s Proposal of a decrease in our state aid of $595,958 (Gap Elimination Adjustment), we prioritized our possible reductions and made the tough decisions necessary. Readers may remember that last year we had reductions that included a middle school principal and two reading teachers.

What do the actual numbers look like? After considering all of our increases to items like payroll, utilities, transportation costs, and other contractual costs, we have an overall budget decrease of $37,441 (-0.2%) and  no increase to the local tax levy.  For more details, look for our budget newsletter which will be mailed to every home in April.

Our 2010-11 budget includes the elimination of our School Resource Officer, our Technology Coordinator and one special education teacher. We also employ a part time curriculum coordinator through BOCES who we are planning to share with another school district next year. Instead of working at Randolph 3 days per week, she will work at Randolph two days and another district two days.  These four reductions account for $219,000 of the $595,958 cut from state aid. The remaining $377,000 will come from our unappropriated fund balance. Because of the excellent fiscal management of this Board of Education over the past several years, we can use the $377,000 from fund balance and still maintain enough additional funds to help again next year. The news we continue to hear about next year’s State budget is even worse than this year.

If need be in the future, we can look again at our prioritized list of reductions for the 2011-2012 school year. They are not positions we plan to cut at this time but are positions and programs that in the worst of times, we are able to eliminate from our school district.  Unfortunately, many of our neighboring districts are forced to look at reductions to these programs for the 2010-2011 school year.

What might those reductions include? Programs that districts are not mandated to include like an elementary library media specialist, an elementary classroom teacher (which would  impact class size), an In School/Out of School Suspension program, a business teacher, a school nurse, modified athletics, music and/or art programs.  Let’s hope we don’t reach that point next year either. We will continue to make fiscally responsible decisions on behalf of our students and our taxpayers. No one wants to see us cut programs, but the reality of the state budget does affect us in Randolph too.  I can’t wrap everyone in a protective bubble and shield them  from the reality of this economic crisis. I wish that I could, but that would be less than honest.  We are managing the cuts as well as or better than any other district, but I have no crystal ball to tell me how long the state budget crisis will continue or how severe the cuts to state aid will be. Bottom line, it’s tough all over and we’re doing okay.

To our incredible faculty and staff: Decisions like the reductions listed above will not be taken lightly. They will be made only if absolutely necessary and in full discussion with the administrative team, the Board of Education, and any individuals who may be affected. I can assure you that we don’t make reductions like this without talking to the individuals well in advance. In other words, if your position is going to be cut, you will know long before anyone else does. It’s not a guessing game or something we will surprise you with at the last minute.  If you’re worried, come and see me. I will speak with you honestly and frankly. I promise. And if things improve, we won’t have to make any additional cuts next year.

I am very grateful to our taxpayers who have supported education by passing budgets and to those who have led this district for years, including our business manager of 18 years and our dedicated BOE members, who have taken care to put this District in good stead for the bad times we are likely to face in the coming years.  Thank you.