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Oswego School Board OKs 2014-15 Spending Plan

OSWEGO, NY – On Wednesday morning, the Oswego board of education approved the budget for the coming school year 6-0-1 with member John Dunsmoor absent.

The $79,900,000 spending plan contains a 4 percent tax increase for the fiscal year commencing July 1, 2014.

It also calls for the closure of the Buc School located in the basement of the Education Center. The Big Picture School program isn’t being eliminated as the students will continue with the program in some manner as they are integrated back into the Oswego middle and high schools.

Board vice president Sam Tripp still has some reservations.

“The budget does financially what we need to do. I just want to state that I am not in favor of eliminating the Buc School. I know (business administrator) Nancy (Squairs) and (Superintendent) Ben (Halsey) have put a lot of hours into this budget and haven’t really had time to come up with a plan. Until I see that plan, I’m not in favor of throwing these kids back into a system that is already failing them,” he said.

Pam Dowd of the Leighton Home and School Association thanked the administrators and the board for their hard work on the budget.

“It is what it is. You can’t pluck dollars out of the air. You have to do the best thing you can with what you have to work with,” she said. “I appreciate all your time and effort; Nancy and Ben especially. Thank you all.”

“This is a difficult situation. There is not a perfect budget there. The board support of this budget means a lot to me as a superintendent. Now our task is to take these next few weeks and present it to the public in a way that they can understand it, and answer their questions so they feel informed to vote on it on May 20. I’m happy with the result today,” Halsey said following the meeting.

The superintendent added that he is confident that the Buc students will successfully make their way back into middle and high school life.

“I think those students and families that are currently in the Buc that are willing to work with us and give this transition a chance, I think they’re going to be pleasantly surprised with the result when they get into whether it be the middle school or the high school,” he said.

How the plan will actually look, he’s unsure right now.

He will be working with the building administrators and counselors to put together a transition team right away, including staff from the Buc, and start having meetings about what they can integrate into the regular flow of OMS and OHS and what changes may be needed to accommodate it all.

“So, those benefits the Buc students were receiving, might be able to be extended out to students that weren’t in the Buc. I know there is some great stuff going on in those buildings that students haven’t been exposed to either. So I really see this as a positive on both sides,” Halsey said. “And, financially, for us, over the long-haul, it’s going to be a lot more efficient.”

Convincing the Buc students to stick with the program is going to be a challenge, the superintendent admits.

“We’re going to want to make sure that we incorporate their thoughts, opinions and their concerns this spring. We’re going to start having these meetings this spring so when they leave in June they have a sense of comfort that when they come to school in September, it’s going to be OK,” he told Oswego County Today. “I understand that. They built a family relationship down there. But, they are still part of the Oswego City School District. That sense of community, that I know is strong here, we really need to make sure that they have that feeling when they walk in in September. I am confident that we can do it. We’ve got great people all over the place.”

Weather Notebook For April 23, 2014

Weather Notebook For April 23, 2014

According to Fulton’s weather observer, the area received 0.20-inch of precipitation on April 22.

The monthly total is 2.69 inches.

The total for the year is 13.62 inches.

Fulton received no snow on April 22.

Total snowfall for the month is 1.1 inches.

For the winter the total stands at 177.6 inches.

Clear and chilly tonight. Low near 30.

Suny, breezy and cool on Thursday. High 45 to 50.

School Board, Public Hear Final Budget Update

OSWEGO, NY – Oswego City School District Superintendent of Schools Ben Halsey updated the board of education  and the public on the 2014-15 budget situation during Tuesday night’s board meeting in the OHS theatre.

The district’s projected budget for the next school year is $79.9 million and includes a four-percent tax increase.

Tuesday’s presentation was built on a lot of feedback from previous public budget discussions as well as smaller meetings with district officials, according to the superintendent.

“There’s no perfect resolution to this. But what we tried to do is, we have a gap, we have some uncertain revenue in front of us, and so we tried to make reductions that are diversified and didn’t affect any one particular area completely,” he explained.

The budget gap is $1.7 million. The proposed cuts total about $2.4 million.

“The reason we went higher than the 1.7 is the revenue is very uncertain; with a large commercial entity in limbo between a PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) and the tax rolls. Because of that, we need to build in some contingency should the revenues not come in at the level we projected,” he said.

Getting to that number included some changes to the district’s Big Picture School (the Buc School).

“I don’t want to say elimination of the Buc School because I don’t view it that way. I view it as restructuring it into our middle school and our high school,” Halsey explained. “In doing so it is a significant savings, using the staff that is in that building. We are reducing teaching positions in the high school, still anticipating Buc students that are going to be coming back to that building. That shows you how inefficient the current system really is. If we can bring those students back and craft a plan for them educationally and still reduce staff, you know there were inefficiencies that we have to address. Enrollment has come down. Our staffing hasn’t come down with it.”

He admits the program has been a success for the students in its current format. He believes that it can still be a success with a little different restructuring.

However, the majority of the speakers Tuesday night urged the board not to make cuts in the Buc School program as it is now.

Eliminating the alternative school (all nine positions associated with it and associated costs) would result in a savings of $762,368, the superintendent said, adding that the program isn’t being done away with, just the “school” site in the Education Center.

One of the Buc School students took the superintendent to task for not coming down a couple floors from his office to visit the school and see what goes on there.

Colleen Emond said her son has made “tremendous strides” not only in his education but in self confidence and social skills thanks to the Buc School. Kathy Rice, the parent of another Buc student, said the only way to meet the needs of the district’s diverse student body is to have a variety of learning programming, of which the Buc School is a big part, she said.

“There are many students that don’t fit into these other programs that we have in place,” she added.

Marilyn Dirk, whose grandchild attends the Buc School, quoted Edward Austin Sheldon regarding the importance of schools such as the Big Picture School.

John Rice said the school was more a “family” to him, and has “given me more opportunities than I could ever have imagined.”

Another parent pointed out that they were rallying for their children (at the Buc).

Jamie Turtura, the parent of two Leighton students, spoke out against cuts that would result in larger class sizes.

Teddy Beers, a phys ed teacher in the district, thanked the board for reconsidering reductions that would have cut phys ed teachers.

Board member John Dunsmoor said until the vision of how the Buc School students will be blended back into OMS and OHS is explained to him, he would like to see the current site continue.

“If we can do what our vision, what our Big Picture vision was, and do it more efficiently, that should be done every day and not at budget times,” he said.

“We talked about the Buc program and how we could continue to service these children within a building where they are in close proximity to the rest of the school population. We would give a directive to the administrators in whatever building that the district came up with in the plan and have the administrator oversee the Buc program, not the school, the Buc program, so that we might be able to cut this budget down,” board member Lynda Sereno explained. “I don’t think any of us sitting at this table want to eliminate the Buc program. Having a separate school is costing us money.”

Board member Sam Tripp said he “isn’t in favor of throwing these kids back into a system where they are going to fail.” But, he also believes the superintendent’s vision that they will provide the program for the kids in the traditional school setting, he added.

On Wednesday at 9:15 a.m. the board will meet in the Education Center Curriculum Center on the second floor.

Weather Notebook For April 22, 2014

Weather Notebook For April 22, 2014

According to Fulton’s weather observer, the area received no pecipitation on April 21.

The monthly total is 2.49 inches.

The total for the year is 13.42 inches.

Fulton received no snow on April 21.

Total snowfall for the month is 1.1 inches.

For the winter the total stands at 177.6 inches.

Cold tonight with rain showers and maybe wet snow, too. Low near 35.

Blustery with showers possible on Wednesday. High around 45.

Oswego Council Committee Revisits OFD Budget, Rental Inspection Fee Proposal

OSWEGO, NY – On the agenda for Monday night’s Administrative Services Committee agenda further discussion on the Oswego Fire Department’s operational study and continued discussion regarding a proposed increase to the city’s rental inspection fees were two separate items. But as the discussion wore on, the dialogues overlapped.

For nearly two and a half hours Monday night, the fire department was on the hot seat.

The department’s operational study was first discussed at the March 17 committee meeting.

Since then, the department’s website has featured the report at www.ofd13126.com It has received 391 hits, according to Jeff McCrobie, fire chief.

He said he has fielded questions “from most of the aldermen” regarding questions they had from constituents.

“We are more than open to any and all questions and comments,” the chief said. “There is a direct email to my office, jmccrobie@OswegoNY.org, for the public to question me. It has received zero responses.”

Members of the public can also reach him at his office 343-2161.

“I stand behind the study and what it represents,” McCrobie said. “And, some of its numbers are coming true as we are at one ambulance now.”

The department is working 24-hour shifts.

Since the department is doing codes, ambulance and fire, how is it structured during the day, one audience member asked.

“Right now, I have a variety of codes officials on each shift. They are able to handle a lot of it when they are on duty,” the chief replied. “It’s not a complete even breakdown; I still have some people going to school for it.”

There is an 11-man minimum on each shift, two of those are assigned codes. If an emergency comes in and they are on codes, they would leave what they are doing and be dispatched to the emergency, McCrobie explained.

“They’re not exclusive on codes. That’s why some of it needs to be done off duty. That would mean comp time or overtime,” he said. “This codes thing is very new to us. To be honest, it’s a lot more in depth than what I imagined when it was turned over to us. We’re taking the calls as they come in.”

Adding the codes to what the department already was doing seems like an awful burden to the whole department, an audience member observed.

“It’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of work. I won’t deny that,” the chief agreed, receiving a smattering of applause from a former employee of the Code Enforcement Office, which the city abolished Dec. 31, 2013.

Fire-based EMS are the way things are being done now, the chief said in regards to the ambulance service, adding, “I believe it makes money, it brings in revenue.”

It seems like there is a lot of contention all the way through this process, an audience member told the chief.

“I completely understand what you’re saying,” the chief replied. “But when my bosses charge me with show us revenues, show us ways to make revenue, I present these things.”

“So what do your firemen say to you when you present all these different options to them that they have to be responsible for?”

“They’re the responsibilities that I give them. It’s the way it is,” McCrobie said.

Another audience member said she didn’t see why (former housing inspector) Pat Kelly couldn’t continue to do the job; it’s an unfair burden to put on the fire department.

“You let her go and you’re going to have five or six firemen go and inspect my apartments, are you kidding me?” she said.

There are other fire departments that have that responsibility in their city, Council President Ron Kaplewicz said.

“I feel for those firemen. They have their job to do. They have to take care of our city if there is a fire,” she continued. “I think you made a big mistake by letting Pat Kelly go. She was very efficient, she was a wonderful person. People respected her. Everybody is so unhappy here. You ask someone on the street are they happy with what’s going on? No, they’re not.”

Twelve percent of the time they have seven people on a shift, which means there are two ambulances (four people) out, the chief said. Twenty percent of the time there is one ambulance out.

“This isn’t the first time the fire department has been used to do code inspections,” said former councilor Sue Sweet. “This is nothing new. They were sent out all the time to do building code inspections.”

Kelly refuted a quote in the paper attributed to a council member as to why it takes nine firemen to do the work of one inspector.

“Because the people that were doing it, weren’t dong their job,” she quoted Councilor Mike Todd. “I’ll take you through my ward and show you 200 houses that haven’t been touched in about 20 years.”

She challenged Todd and any other councilor “to walk with me, who doesn’t think I was doing my job, to take a walk with me through your wards and show me the rentals that you think were not inspected.”

Since the current council and mayor have been in office, she has conducted a total of 3,454 inspections; 1,143 units failed and 2,311 passed, Kelly said, adding that she cited 4,596 violations.

Todd charged that Kelly was given requests for (freedom of information) and failed to respond all three times.

The FOIL requests went to Neal Smith, former code enforcement officer, Kelly responded.

Why can’t the firefighters do the inspections for the same price everyone else was doing it for, an audience member wanted to know.

It’s just a proposal, the chief noted.

It is a value to have his people out doing the inspections, the chief added. It gives them information about several buildings that could be useful in the event the department ever has to respond there for a fire or other emergency, he explained.

“I’m trying to handle the work that’s assigned me. How we got here was not my decision. I’m just taking on the work that I’ve been given,” the chief said.

The chief was also question as to why firefighters took city vehicles to places like stores and fast food restaurants while they were working.

“They are on 24-hour shifts. There is no scheduled lunch break; they don’t go home for lunch, they don’t go home for dinner … so on duty, I allow them to go get their stuff and bring it back to the fire house and prepare it. Hence, the engine company stays together, the ambulance company stays together because they’re in service,” he explained.

“They still have at the end of the shift or the beginning of the shift” (to get their stuff), interjected former councilor Dick Atkins. “Or they could have food delivered.”

The rental inspection fees is an issue the council needs to deal with, Kaplewicz said.

“It’s not about generating revenue. It’s about covering costs,” he said. “Nobody likes change. I get that. But we can’t do business as usual.”

Former code enforcement employee Veronica Caprin asked the city to do a comparison study at the end of the year so everyone could see how the new way compares with what the code enforcement department did.

How many inspections will be done this year and how much money they will take in versus what the code enforcement office did, she said.

Several options were suggested such as keeping things the same, charge for re-inspecting and not the first inspection, rewarding landlords that continue to have good inspections and target the bad landlords in an attempt to get them to improve their properties.

“We’re all on the same page,” Sweet said. “We all want to see the city move forward in a fantastic way.”

“Let’s see where this thing goes; this is just discussion. Let’s get something on paper, if we need anything on paper,” Kaplewicz said. “Give us a chance to work on something here. This is a continuing dialogue.”

The committee took no action Monday night. More discussion will take among the councilors and landlords and the topic will return to the council floor at a later date.

Weather Notebook For April 21, 2014

Weather Notebook For April 21, 2014

According to Fulton’s weather observer, the area received no pecipitation on April 20.

The monthly total is 2.49 inches.

The total for the year is 13.42 inches.

Fulton received no snow on April 20.

Total snowfall for the month is 1.1 inches.

For the winter the total stands at 177.6 inches.

Mostly cloudy and mild tonight. Low in the 40s.

Cloudy and mild with showers possible on Tuesday. High 55 to 60.

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