Nov 08, 2013 Joe Genco Uncategorized
The Skaneateles Central School District will engage the public in coming months to study potential strategies to deal with its financial problems while still maintaining programs.
Interim Superintendent of Schools Judy Pastel gave a presentation to about 50 people to lay out the problems the district faces and how they intend to study solutions, at a board of education work session on Nov. 5.
The large attendance was likely due to the district’s controversial announcement two weeks prior that they would study the idea of moving fifth grade into the middle school and second grade into State Street Intermediate School. Board President Kathryn Carlson acknowledged the large crowd and said that the board wants to work with them for a common goal.
“We are aware that you are here for children and we are also here for children, and I know that we can work together to solve this problem to the benefit of the students in this community,” Carlson said.
The announcement about studying grade shifts had sparked an online petition on Oct. 24 that received 100 signatures in less than a day. The petition called for the district to take a step back and look at more ideas to develop a long-term plan for the district – and they took that advice.
Pastel started the meeting by apologizing to the public that had come to listen. She said that she had gotten ahead of herself with her initial plan to study grade shifts and thanked the community members who had circulated emails and the petition.
Pastel gave a presentation outlining the challenges the district faces and stating its goal to “keep excellent programs and fiscal responsibility despite external stressors.”
The stressors facing the district include depleted cash reserves, a 1.66 percent tax cap for the next budget, declining birth rates and declining enrollment, economic decline in the region since 2007, decline in employment, declining federal funding, shrinking of teachers and staff through layoffs and attrition, unused space in buildings and declining state aid.
Of these stressors only depleted reserves, unused space and shrinking staff are directly under the control of the district, Pastel said.
In order to develop strategies to address this problem, the district has planned a several-month-long process to get community feedback.
“We’ve got a problem and the only unacceptable course, which is an action, is to absolutely do nothing. I don’t know what we’re going to do. You’re going to give input to help the board, so we have solutions that we can study and look at, but we can’t ignore it,” Pastel said.
The process will start with a meeting at 7:15 p.m. on Nov. 12 in Waterman school open to all residents of the school district. More information about the meeting can be found here.
The plan for the evening is to have everyone meet in the auditorium for an initial presentation and then split into smaller groups that will discuss and propose ideas for actions that the district could take. These plans could include moving grades into new buildings or any other changes that people think may work.
The district will then create study groups that will include parents, teachers, administrators and community members without children in the district. These groups will evaluate the ideas from the Nov. 12 meeting and report back over the course of the next few months. The board will also discuss the progress of the process and hold additional meetings to get input form the general public. Pastel said that the process will take until March, or possibly longer, to complete, though the district needs to start looking at long-term strategies to address its impending financial problems.
When given a chance to address the board at the end of the meeting, several people spoke to ask that facts and figures about enrollment and the district’s finances be made available to them prior to the meeting. Pastel agreed that this was a good idea and said they would work to post what they could to the district website.
A couple people in attendance also asked Pastel to address a rumor that she had met with the YMCA and had already made a deal with them to use space in Waterman school for a preschool program. Pastel said that she was contacted by the YMCA about leasing space in Waterman for a preschool program, but she had only talked to them and started to research if that would be possible.
There is no plan in place for any childcare or preschool programs to be in the Skaneateles public schools, though the possibility of leasing space in one of the schools has yet to be eliminated as a possibility, she said.
Joe Genco is the editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.