Nov 22, 2013 Joe Genco Uncategorized
The Skaneateles Central School District has turned to its taxpayers to help suss out how to handle impending financial challenges.
Community members brainstormed ideas for the schools to save money while maintaining its programs at a public forum on Nov. 20 at Waterman Primary School. Potential strategies discussed included moving grades to new buildings, consolidating staff and closing the district office.
The forum came after two recent meetings during which Interim Superintendent of Schools Judy Pastel and members of the board of education explained the stressors and challenges the district will face in coming years.
At the Nov. 20 meeting Pastel also announced that regardless of the results of the studies conducted by the district, she will not recommend that the board approve shifting grades for the 2014-15 school year.
“We probably have one year left before big changes have to happen,” Board of Education President Kathryn Carlson said at the board’s regular meeting on Nov. 19. “The board and the administration are committed to using this next year to do a thorough study of all the options, this is why we need your ideas.”
At the Waterman meeting it was up to members of the community to do the talking, as they broke into eight small groups of about 10 people each in the cafeteria to discuss ideas for the district’s future and the challenges and opportunities each would present.
The groups were also given additional information gathered by the administration in response to questions asked at the Nov. 12 information session. This included some numbers on recent changes already made within the district. By consolidating and reducing its curriculum coordinators, principals and counselors the district will save $421,000 in the 2014-15 school year budget.
The district also reported that among other effects, closing the district office would save the district $10,010 per year on utility costs. However, leasing the office to an outside group could be problematic since the district is still paying debt service on the bond taken out to refurbish that building, Assistant Superintedent of Business and Finance Dale Bates said.
Each group, aided by a board member or representative of Cayuga County BOCES, came up with its top two ideas to share with everyone at the end.
The ideas groups came up with included: sharing administrative or other services with nearby districts, outsourcing, closing the district office, sharing textbooks, e-learning, distance learning, reducing energy and transportation costs, bringing more students into the district, charging fees to community groups that use the buildings and raising the tax rate by proposing a budget that exceeds the tax cap (which would require a 60 percent supermajority approval).
One idea proposed by two groups that received a lot of support from those in attendance was shifting grades down rather than up, as Pastel had previously announced the district would study. This could possibly mean sixth graders moving to State Street Intermediate School and third graders moving to Waterman school.
Since the middle school gym is in disrepair it wouldn’t make sense to be moving more students into that building, Julie Abbott-Kenan said.
Abbott-Kenan said that her group had also discussed building an addition onto Waterman School to house more students and having the middle school be used as a regional testing center to potentially bring in new revenue.
After a representative of each group shared their ideas, everyone was able to vote on what ideas they like best by placing stickers on the papers that the ideas were written on.
Jessica Millman, who originally started the online petition asking the district to initiate the process involving more community feedback, said that the forum was a success and has also lead to more people learning about how the school board and district function.
“It’s extremely exciting to see all this energy being expended on behalf of this community and our children,” she said.
The top ideas from the meeting will now be investigated and discussed further by study groups composed of teachers, parents, administrators and other community members. Those groups will update the board on their progress during the next couple of months and could lead to the board being able to vote on a proposal to be implemented for the 2015-16 school year.
Joe Genco is the editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.