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Oswego School Budget Plans Waiting On State Action

By Bill Foley, OCT Contributing Writer
OSWEGO, NY – There was a full plate in front of the members of the Oswego City School District Board of Education on Monday night.

Budget, small city school district lawsuits, redistricting, nuclear negotiations, the bookmobile and elementary school English Language Arts took the majority of the time while numerous resolutions were approved during the final January meeting.

This is the time of year the administration commences the draft of what the 2015-2016 budget might look like, but that is not happening.

Superintendent of School Ben Halsey said that while “building the revenue side of the budget” there is no assistance from the State of New York. Governor Andrew Cuomo is not allowing “running the numbers” for state aid.

This “run” usually allows school district officials to commence budget planning, but it appears that Albany isn’t going to run the preliminary state aid numbers until the budget is in place.

Halsey said, “We are left out in the dark while the political games plays out.”

He noted the district will look at possible revenues, but  indicated “we will use an approach scenario and base our planning on multiple scenarios.”

“There are a lot of ‘ifs” in our planning in regards to revenue,” said Halsey.

Not only does the state impact the school district budget planning, but Halsey said, “There is another elephant and that is the Nine Mile Point negotiations. Negotiations are ongoing.”

He later indicated that negotiations at this time are no different than they were nearly a year ago.

School board vice president Lynda Sereno encouraged community involvement in the state wide budget situation. She explained there were two upcoming New York State School Boards Association forums with one being held on February 3 in Auburn at West Middle Schools and another two days later in North Syracuse.

Board member Sam Tripp asked for “A, B and C budgets and there is a need for transparency in the budget process.”

State funding comes in different forms to school districts and currently small city school districts in New York State have a lawsuit against those to dispense aid.

Halsey said Oswego would be involved in that lawsuit, which essentially claims that there in a “substantial inequity in the way small city school districts received a portion of state aid.”

Redistricting has been a topic that the board and administration have undertaken and Halsey felt that one major suggested change would not occur at this time.

The superintendent said, “Sixth grade going to the Oswego Middle School is off the table for this fall.”

He explained that if this were to occur it would not have to cost the district money. It was noted that “internal modifications would be needed” and it would have to be part of the budget discussion.

Halsey supports the sixth, seventh and eight grade concept; but that discussion is expected at a later time. He also noted aside from the construction modifications that there are “programmatic and philosophical discussions” that are going to be needed.

He said, “There is an effort to balance elementary buildings. We need to take a good look at this. We need to balance numbers and make the transportation of students more efficient.”

The administration will have “a few key” people discuss this and move forward.

Halsey did not feel there was a need for a committee at this time as numerous redistricting committee reports have been filed in the past 22 years.

Halsey spoke about the district relationship with the bookmobile and indicated there was a desire for the district to take complete responsibility for this valuable resource.

However, he noted this would be extremely difficult.

The district will continue in a partnership and would fund two literacy specialists and possibly a grant could assist with the third position.

General maintenance would also be conducted by the district transportation area in regards to oil changes and tire rotation as well as providing storage space for books and an office area for the bookmobile.

The superintendent will also be joining the bookmobile executive committee and noted, “a partnership is the best way to go.”

English Language Arts, standards and modules have been on the table before the board for several months.

Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Dean Goewey led the discussion as  instructional coaches Cherie Beck and Donna Miles were joined by many district elementary teachers for an elementary literacy review.

Dr. Goewey said, “We took a critical look at instruction material around ELA. We developed a plan where grade level teachers reviewed module by module.”

He explained there was an effort to develop professional development around the module.

Dr. Goewey hoped to clarity the different perceptions that are across the district and come up with a common language.

The instruction coaches provided the board with an in-depth report while explaining that they have sat with teachers throughout the district at all elementary levels. They explained teachers appreciated the opportunity to share information and material.

The objective is to have all teachers at their respective grades at a consistent level and to be on the same playing field in relation to modules and standards.

First grade teacher Stacia Bartlett explained the analytical understanding that has developed among students at a very young age.

Kindergarten teacher Mary Lisk noted that students are receiving  more valuable information with the modules. She indicated that students are remembering and have more academic stamina.

She said, “We are finally making a full attempt to pull everyone together on the same page.”

The veteran kindergarten teacher said the modules are well done and “we can now zero in on what we are doing.”

Lisk also talked about how inquisitive young students have become and she is amazed at the growth.

Dr. Goewey noted when he was hired to his current position the district was “herding cats” and there was a need to “standardize and clean up what we had.”

He explained that the board was at liberty to discuss the type of program that the district could use in regards to reach the standards and he was willing to have that discussion if the board had that desire.

Resolutions Pack Regular Agenda

The retirements of Oswego High School Assistant Principal Susan Piasecki and food service veteran Kim Bryant were officially accepted.

Oswego High School teacher Heidi Sweeney was named as an interim Dean of Students through June 30 at a current salary of $85,283. Approval was given to post her biology teaching position for the leave of absence period.

Leaves of absence were granted to elementary teachers Nicole Freebern, Shirley Hadley, Michelle Baroody, Kelly Waite and Courtney Johnston as well as teacher assistant Amy Quonce.

Teachers receiving tenure appointments included Michael Howard, Matthew Bock, Eric McCrobie, Jeremy Shanly, Catherine Chase and Carol Janice.

Probationary teachers approved included Casey Lawton, Stephanie Dawson and Cheri Rohn. Regular substitutes who will be in the classroom through June 30 are Melissa Russell and Keriann Eastman.

There were four athletic appointments including junior varsity head baseball coach Tom Frawley, boys’ junior varsity lacrosse coach Dan Witmer, volunteer cheerleading coach Gina Lee and modified boys’ assistant swim coach Lisa Shannon.

The annual high school musical is approaching and approved to perform in the orchestra, on an as needed basis, were Cheryl Rogers, Kris Jorgensen, James Peer and Deb Mazurek. Amanda Kurey was approved as the choreographer for the show.

Jeff Wallace was approved as an after-school homework supervisor at the middle school while Michael Conners was approved as an intramural supervisor for Kingsford Park Elementary School.

Two psychologist interns were approved as Emily Cunningham and Karyvette Fieto will serve for the 2015-16 school year and will receive $12,000 each.

Mary Warrington was approved as a part time teacher aide while Ward Andres received a contingent permanent appointment as a computer aide.

Probationary support staff members approved included bus drivers James Liccardi and Ray Hatalla along with part-time food service helper Charles Dumas and part-time teacher aide Mary Searor.

Brittany Shoults was also approved as a part-time school security officer.

In the area of finance, the board approved a transfer of nearly $3,800 for the purchase of five spare dome cameras and a renewed a maintenance contract with Simplex Grinnell in the amount of $35,209.