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Letter to the Editor from Oswego School Board Candidate Samuel Sugar

My name is Samuel J. Sugar and I am a candidate for the Oswego City School District Board of Education election on May 18, 2010. I am a lifelong resident of Oswego and the parent of a third grade student at Minetto Elementary School. Due to the fact that there will apparently not be a televised public forum like last year or some other opportunity for district voters to meet this year’s candidates and pose questions, I wish to inform voters where I stand on a number of important issues through this letter.

I decided to run for the Board of Education because I want to help address the educational and fiscal challenges facing our district, namely federal and state mandated achievement goals in a time of shrinking financial resources and ever increasing numbers of students who need extra academic resources. Our district leadership and the Board as a whole are far more reactive than proactive. Examples of where the Board could have and should have been more proactive over the past several years include reviewing curriculum, awareness of the increasing number of children who begin school with academic and behavioral issues that require early intervention, high school security and diversity issues, and short and long range budgeting. The Board is continually operating in a mode of reacting to issues that are already in an advanced stage of distress when it should be looking to identify issues when they are only at the initial stage so that they can be addressed before they grow to crisis level proportions. It often appears that the Board and administration do not want to address issues until they are forced to do so by outside agencies or public opinion.

My philosophy of education is to provide our children with the best learning environment possible, including teachers, facilities, curriculum, textbooks, and computers. I believe we should continually evaluate our academic programs and approaches to educating our children to ensure that we are providing the best possible education possible to as many of our students as possible. This requires that we first identify the needs of our students, that we then evaluate how best to meet the needs that have been identified in a fiscally prudent manner, and that we then implement the plan that is developed with periodic review and modifications to the plan as needed.

There are three specific goals that I would like to accomplish. One goal is a comprehensive review of all of the curriculums being taught in our schools by committees comprised of classroom teachers, parents, administrators and Board members. I feel that the Board and administration have not made the best decisions possible in certain curriculum areas or that what once might have been a sound decision may no longer be the best one at the present time.

A second goal is to undertake a comprehensive review of all administrative positions in the district. The administrative review would include the examination of the written job descriptions for each position, the manner in which each administrator’s performance is measured each year, the justification for the position and how it directly contributes to the classroom educational process, the compensation attached to the position relative to the work product of the position, and whether some administrative positions can be eliminated and/or consolidated due to overlapping or duplicative responsibilities or due to simply contributing too little to the classroom educational process. Even with the administrative cuts that have been made for 2010-2011, more administrative cuts can and should be made. I advocated for more administrative cuts at Board sponsored public hearings but I was ignored. It is incomprehensible to me that the Board and Superintendent chose to cut a high school science teaching position after we just finished building a new science wing and deny 133 students the opportunity to take science next year, instead of cutting the 3 additional administrative positions I advocated.

A third goal is a forensic audit of the school district books and records going back at least three full years to trace and account for all of the money that has been taken in and spent or not spent, as the case may be, and to find out whether all of the district’s finances have been managed in an appropriate manner. This year’s budget discussions highlighted once again the lack of knowledge within the administration of exactly how much money we actually take in and spend every year and how much we have sitting around in this account or that account. We need outside professional accountants to trace exactly what is happening with our money. Simultaneously with the forensic audit I want to see our district administrators justify line by line and account by account exactly how each expenditure relates to the educational well-being of our students and what we are receiving by way of academic achievement for that expenditure. I want the smokescreens that currently exist with respect to our district finances to be blown away once and for all.

I want to make sure that our children can read, comprehend, and write at grade level. I also want to make sure that they possess grade appropriate math skills. We have a huge need for additional core subject tutorial assistance for our students. I would like to see efforts made to involve more education majors from SUNY Oswego in this process and effort. Our district’s limited financial resources make creative solutions of paramount importance.

I am not beholden to any special interest groups other than our district’s children. I am committed to helping our children to learn, to grow, and to become better citizens. I want my son and every other child in the district in all grade levels to receive the best education possible. I realize the value of gathering as much factual information as possible and encouraging discussion and thoughtful consideration of all sides of an issue before making a decision. I adamantly refuse to be spoon fed only that information that someone else thinks I need to know or am entitled to know. I ask the hard questions and go the extra distance to do a job to the best of my ability. I do not agree with decisions or solutions that are only band-aids. I want to address problems or issues from a long term perspective rather than go for the easy quick fix like our Superintendent and Board do year in and year out and month in and month out. I am very analytical and willing to seek out information from persons and professionals who are more knowledgeable about a topic than I am so that I am utilizing the best and most accurate information possible in my decision making.

I want to see that the district spends money wisely and gets the most that it can out of what it has to work with. We also need to do 3 and 5 year budget planning. It gets mentioned now and then but we never see anything concrete. For instance, the Superintendent opened his 2010-2011 budget presentation with words to the effect that the district is facing unforeseen and unprecedented increased costs and diminishing sources of revenue. He would have been aware of the approximate magnitude of the increased costs we are facing next year if he simply looked at a study that the district contracted for a few years back that forecast what our annual expenditures would be through 2013 or so if we did not take any steps to control costs. We have known for more than two years that New York State’s finances were in shambles and yet our administration and Board failed to recognize that fiscally responsible decisions needed to be implemented two years ago rather than continue “business as usual” by taxing, spending and depleting precious reserve funds.

I recognize that our budgetary woes require that we intelligently examine all options, including redistricting and closing a school. I recognize and agree that redistricting is an economic necessity at this time. I am not in favor of the increased class size component that is an integral part of the redistricting plan as I have not yet seen anyone present any educational data about the long-term effects on student achievement with the class size numbers that were adopted.

As to my position on closing an elementary school, I have been waiting since December 28, 2009, for Superintendent Bill Crist to fulfill his promise to furnish me with one of the critical pieces of information that I need to make an intelligent decision on that question, namely, what student capacity was each of the elementary schools designed and built to house? On that date, I met with Bill for over 90 minutes in his office discussing various aspects of the Relocation Study which proposed that Leighton close. Prior to our meeting I had emailed him with a list of items of information I was interested in reviewing, one of which was the design capacity of each elementary school. I renewed my request at our meeting and he promised to provide me with the information. I also raised the issue of educational impact that closing Leighton and increasing class sizes might have and he informed me that a principal within the district was researching that issue along with some other issues and would render a report. The report was rendered shortly after our meeting but it did not address the educational impact issues that Bill promised would be addressed. About 5 weeks or so after our meeting, I emailed Bill a reminder that I was still interested in the building capacity information and have yet to receive a reply. Once I find out how many students each of the schools was designed to house, once I find out the potential educational impact on student achievement of the increased class sizes that closing a school may cause, once I find out what savings can be achieved through further administrative cuts, and once I find out how much money will actually be saved by closing a school, I will come to a decision.

Thank-you.

Samuel J. Sugar
Candidate for the Board of Education