OSWEGO – For the past several years, county school districts have faced an uncertain financial future, due, in part, to the uncertainty of state aid.
They have learned to “adapt.”
Chris Todd, district superintendent for the Oswego County BOCES (CiTi) region, said it is time for districts to stop adapting and start evolving.
Recently, he presented a few ideas for the Oswego School Board to consider; thinking about the county as a whole.
The nine superintendents in the county are relatively new with the longest sitting superintendent at about two and a half years, he pointed out.
“We had a conversation about leadership at a leadership series. We started in the spring and it finally came to fruition this fall. It is actually the nine superintendents and myself and a little bit of support from some CiTi folks and with the collective thought of all the leaders in the region, the principals, directors and assistant superintendents. Talking about leadership issues and what they need to be successful,” he said. “Success comes at a price. We take people out of their comfort zone. We’re trying to focus regionally across the county on leadership, not just management.”
The group used the feedback from its first meeting to develop a monthly series of skill building and leadership quality … “so that our superintendents, assistant superintendents, our principals and directors can feel like they are a part of a bigger community.”
Todd cited Oswego Superintendent Dr. Dean Goewey for “doing a great job” facilitating the first meeting.
“I look forward to having as many administrators in the county participate as possible. Participation has been quite good; there were 70 at our first meeting, a good group of people,” Todd said. “It’s a commitment. They are showing up after work form 5 to 7 p.m. We’re asking them to give up their time and they’ve done so willingly. It’s really truly exciting to see this energy.”
Todd said he likes to come to boards early and share his outlook on the economic landscape of the state.
“Keep in mind that last year across the state we saw a 7 percent increase in educational funding. However, nobody in this county saw a 7 percent increase. Our highest districts were in the 4s, some of them were in the 2s,” he cautioned.
“If we’re hearing 4 percent now, we have to be very careful to not think that we’re all going to get 4 percent because we’re not. If it’s 4 percent across the state, we’re looking at 2, we’re looking at 1,” he continued. “I’m not here to say the sky is falling. But I am here to say that as we move forward, be aware that there is just so much money to go around. It doesn’t look like it’s projected to be a very strong year.”
Financially, what districts have done over the past several years is try to adapt to their situation, he pointed out.
“Adapting means we cut or we trade this for that. We tend to be bartering within our own districts. We’re adapting to the situation and there’s not a lot of value added there. All we’re really doing is trying to make sure we’re putting out the best program we can for kids,” he explained. “What I’m proposing – it’s an out there thought – is we stop adapting and we start evolving. Evolution is adapting with some value added.”
Todd will be meeting with every board, every stakeholder to promote his plan. Oswego was his first stop.
“What I’m asking is that we consider doing a large regionalized study looking at programs and program equity; try to do our best looking at fiscal projections. And looking at how we can partner, maybe how we can evolve county-wide so that we don’t continue to see the atrophy that I’m seeing in all my districts in programming, extra curricular and of those things,” he told the board members. “This is not Chris Todd of BOCES wants to take over the county. This is a really good study to see how we’re going to adapt because there is only so much longer that we’re going to be able to adapt.”
Instead of the districts funding a study he suggests going after things like economic development money and other entities to help fund the survey.
In 2013-14 (according to numbers from all districts) to educate about 19,500 kids districts spent $419 million across the county.
“That’s a lot of money. And 19,000 kids is a lot of kids. But, we’re also losing kids. We’ve lost over the last 13 years the equivalent of a large and small school district. We’ve lost a lot of kids,” Todd said. “When (the state) reset the foundation aid formula, there were winners and losers. The reality is that we don’t have as many kids as they do downstate. We are economically disadvantaged and we do have a certain percentage of ‘poor.’ We’re not gaining any kids and we’re not getting poorer fast enough to outrun a reset on the foundation aid formula.”
Doing a regionalized study will help them find answers, he said.
“I personally think it’s a great idea,” Lynda Sereno, board president, said. “I’m sure we’ll want to discuss it more as a board.”