OSWEGO, NY – The public got to weigh in on the proposed $79.9 million school budget Tuesday night. The vast majority of the speakers focused on just one aspect of the budget – the closure of the Buc School.
The district was facing a budget gap and part of the process to close that included some changes to the district’s Big Picture School (the Buc School).
Eliminating the alternative school (all nine positions associated with it and associated costs) would result in a savings of $762,368, Superintendent Ben Halsey explained, adding that the program isn’t being done away with, just the “school” site in the Education Center.
One parent of a Buc student said “we have stood up here and poured our hearts out. I feel everything we’ve said has fallen on deaf ears.”
She added that she doesn’t think the board knows exactly what it is doing to the Buc students by eliminating their school site and forcing them to return to classes in the middle and high schools.
Had it not been for the Buc School, several students have said they would have already dropped out of school, she said.
Teresa Lazarek, another Buc parent, said the students were promised the Buc School would run for at least five years. And, now that’s it’s proven successful after two years, it is on the chopping block, she said, adding “That’s not fair. Ultimately, our children are being used as sacrificial lambs to solve your budget crisis.”
Superintendent Ben Halsey said he has reviewed the associated paperwork with the school and can find no mention of a “five-year promise.”
“The finances just aren’t there for us to sustain it and increase it to what was in the original plan over the long-haul,” he pointed out.
Board member Heather DelConte said she and other board members understand the Buc School principle.
“I believe in the concepts behind it,” she said. “I have been down to the Buc School. I think there are a lot of fallacies and misconceptions going on and they are being allowed to perpetuate that we are not present, that we do not understand, and the concept that we haven’t listened to the children is completely misplaced. We have listened to every single word that has been spoken. We have felt it. We have taken it home with us. And we, yes, have even been emotional about it. This has not been an easy decision at all and we care deeply about every single child that comes into this school.”
She urged the parents of Buc students to “reinforce your children that they are going to make it, they’re going to do great.”
Several parents complained that the students have been involved in preparing for the transition process, but no parents have been contacted yet.
Todd Conner asked when he and other parents would be informed about the transition plan.
“We felt that it was most important to address the students first. We wanted to reach out and touch base with the students first,” Superintendent Halsey explained. “The next part of the process will be (the middle and high schools) reaching out to parents to give you the opportunity to have discussions with them, specific to your needs as a parent.”
“I’m hoping that as we get further into this that the parents become part of the solution and not make this more difficult than it needs to be,” board member Lynda Sereno added.
Jennifer Vivlemore said her son likely won’t go back to school if the Buc School is eliminated. Now she will have to fight with him to do his homework, to get up each morning and go to school instead of dropping out, she added.
“There is probably no way for me to sit here and convey to you as parents and have you believe me other than to simply tell you that I feel your anguish over this decision,” the superintendent said. “We thought long and hard about it. I thought long and hard about it as a superintendent.”
In his five months on the job, there are a lot of programs he hasn’t gotten to see yet, he said addressing claims he hasn’t visited the Buc School.
“Even though I am not there I know that the instruction that happens in the Buc, the instruction that happens at Riley, Minetto, the middle school, the high school is quality, capable instruction and our students are benefiting from it; even if I’m not in there actually seeing it on a daily basis. I have confidence in the staff that has been hired by this board of education,” Halsey said.
If the economic conditions don’t improve here and around the state, it’s possible that a school building might be closed in the future, he added.
“We have great teachers. This is not a reflection of the instruction that has happened at the Buc. This is an opportunity for us to take and learn from what has happened at the Buc and work with the great stuff that is going on in the buildings and find a blend, to where we can make it work that is financially responsible,” he said.
“I’ve been vocal right from the get-go about not being in favor of this transition. I’ve been to the Buc School. I have been to two harvest dinners that the Buc has put on. I have been involved as much as I can and I understand the frustration,” board vice president Sam Tripp said. “But, I think there are some positives that can come out of this.”
If the Buc students move back to OMS and OHS, they will be able to be involved in music, they will have athletic fields at their disposal, have swimming pools at their disposal.
“Those are things that they don’t have right now. Now for phys ed, they’re going to East Park. This can be a good thing, it really can. I was against it from the start and I’m not completely sold yet. But I’m willing to give the administration a chance,” Tripp said. “You parents talk about now you’re going to have to fight with your kids to get them up top go to school. Guess what, folks? A lot of other parents, with kids in every other school, do the same thing every morning. Not every kid wants to get up and go to school. I just ask that everybody give it a chance to work out.”
Mary Beth Fierro explained that the transition team is already working out the process and have spoken with the Buc students.
They are offering Buc students the opportunity to shadow OMS students for the day to what their day is like. There will also be a chance for parents and guardians to meet with OMS staff, she said.
Pam Dowd, Leighton Home and School president, urged the Buc parents to change their negative feelings into positive.
“Make a new thing come to the middle school and the high school. Turn it around. Wouldn’t it be great that if in three years, you’re saving more kids from dropping out because you worked together and got a transition team going and maybe stared some new learning initiatives?” she said. “Have the faith. We have great staff, we have great faculty. Work together and be positive. Let’s see if we can make something really good come out of this.”
If the budget proposal fails and the district has to go to a contingency budget, the cuts that have been made will not be reinstated, Nancy Squairs, the district’s business manager said.
And $2 million more worth of cuts will be required, board member John Dunsmoor pointed out.
“We’d have to cut more from the budget if we went to a contingency budget,” Squairs agreed.