OSWEGO, NY Ã¢â‚¬â€œ As the Oswego school board meeting Tuesday night began to dissolve into a shouting match between some board members and the superintendent, the superintendent received support from a rather unlikely source.
Fran Hoefer, known more for being at odds with administrators, urged his fellow board members to listen to what Bill Crist is proposing for the coming school year and give it serious consideration, even if that includes moving the Leighton students.into other schools.
Crist was chastised by some of the members for not providing enough numbers for their liking about his budget plan (which will be finalized and presented to the board next week) and for suggesting that Oswego Middle School, currently 7-8 grade, become a 6-8 grade school starting next year.
Board president Sam Tripp said he thinks 6-8 “would be great” but doesn’t believe the school would be ready by September to accommodate the influx of sixth graders.
“I don’t have any confidence that the middle school will be ready for sixth grade this fall,” he said.
“I’m used to seeing our leadership that won’t lead, people bound and determine to keep the status quo, that will not do anything efficient; and now all of a sudden, I’m seeing a leadership that is trying to do that and we won’t let him,” Hoefer said. “I’m supporting the administration because they are going the right way for a change. We have to have guidance, we really do. We have too few kids with too many buildings.”
He added that he feels the entire board still has the best interest of the students at heart.
“I had the opportunity to see a school board that functions like a bunch of mobsters,” he said alluding to his recent excursion to Middletown. “Every one of us cares. We may argue, but we don’t hate each other. We all care about our kids. We’re all trying to get to the same place, a better community.”
He wants to support the superintendent because “I think he’s doing great. We have to move forward.”
“Tell me how re-districting doesn’t do the same thing, because we’re not closing Leighton,” board member John Dunsmoor said, getting a round of applause from the many supporters of the west side elementary school in the audience. “What are we saving?”
“What are we saving?” Hoefer asked.
If you close a building, you should save on heating, janitors, and whatever else it costs to run that building, Dunsmoor noted.
“I’m having a hard time understanding where are we saving anything,” he said. “As soon as three classes go to the middle school they’re going to fight to have another administrator up there so we’re not even saving the administrative staff.”
Hoefer accused the district of doing nothing in past years to honestly address any of the hard issues facing it.
“What we’re doing right now is really making a real hard effort to do nothing again,” Hoefer said. “I’ll make a prediction; this board is not going to do anything except criticize the superintendent for finally leading us.”
“Show me the concrete numbers,” Dunsmoor challenged.
“We need to get more efficient. What have we done? Nothing! We need to consolidate, we need to save, we need to get rid of teachers on assignment, we need to get rid of waste. What have we done? We created new positions and hired more people. We are doing exactly the opposite of what we should be doing.”
“How many vacant positions if you look in the budget is the money there but not the person?” board member Dave White asked.
“Listen, nobody in this room is more surprised than me to see me changing my mind and looking at different people with a different attitude,” Hoefer said. “Bill’s trying to lead us, he’s trying to do something right. Instead of cutting him down let’s give him a chance. I want to see if he can do this, I want to see if he can pull this off with no tax increase. I want to give him a chance.”
“I don’t think anyone here is going to deny him a chance. We’re going through the process; let the process evolve. Honestly, I think Bill’s proposal is a good thing. As sad as it was that everybody had to get all upset, it was probably a good thing,” Tripp said of the Leighton recommendation, adding it has resulted in a lot of good dialogue. “Whether we do it or not, that’s down the road. We’ll work at it.”
The superintendent will make his budget recommendation to the board at its March 16 meeting.
“If that’s not the direction the majority of this board doesn’t want to do, then I need a clear picture of what’s going to happen between now and next Tuesday when I give you a budget,” Crist told the board.
There will be a preliminary budget hearing, open to the public, on April 6.
The budget is slated for more discussion and adoption at the April 13 board meeting.
Another budget hearing will be held on May 4.
The public vote on the budget is set for May 18.