OSWEGO, NY – This is the time of the (school) year to pause to look back, but stay focused on the future.
“It certainly is a busy time of year in each of our buildings; whether it be recognition of our students’ accomplishments academically as well as extracurricular or the wrap-up of our spring sports seasons,” Superintendent Ben Halsey said at this week’s board of education meeting. “Despite all the trials and tribulations of the budget process and all the tough decisions that need to be made, this is the time of year which is really important for all of us to look back and really acknowledge the accomplishment of our faculty and the great work that they’ve done this year and the accomplishment of our students.”
“It really is important that when we have all these tough decisions and discussions that we’ve had to make that we don’t lose sight of the fact that we are a very accomplished school district and we’ve got a lot of great stuff going on,” he continued. “It really is important at this time of year to take a moment to reflect on that. I congratulate everybody who will receive and has already received recognition for the work that they’ve done this year.”
There has been a lot of review going on; being a focus district, they had state representatives visit “looking at our district academically for a few days last week. It was a very thorough process. We will work with the state to improve ourselves as a district,” the superintendent said.
The district went through the budget process and is very thankful to the community for the support that they’ve showed in the passage of all of our propositions, not just the budget, Halsey said.
“We greatly appreciate the community giving really the heavy lift to get us to be able to fund our intentions next year as a school district. That being said, we have already started the process of analyzing what we went through with our budget this year and we’ll be mapping out a sequence of things I’d like to do differently for next year. And, tying in with these reviews we’re having done, we need to do a better job as a district, myself as a superintendent of what is it that we want to accomplish as a district – driving our budget process, rather than just the budget process driving what we’re going to be capable of doing. I think the difference is powerful,” Halsey said.
The district needs to build the budget around what it wants to do and needs to do, not letting the budget process dictate this is what the district has let to work with, he added.
As far as “the nuts and bolts of the budget,” they need to start having some public discussions about the voting sites, he told the board.
“We currently have 10 sites and we have used the antiquated lever machines. This budget process was the last year, by New York State legislation, that we were allowed to use those machines,” he said. “We will be going to the digital scanning voting process for next year. Still working out the details as to whether we as a district purchase those machines of if we’d be able to rent them, take them on loan from the county or other municipalities that have those in place. Either way, there’s going to be a financial obligation to us that we currently don’t have.”
The superintendent said it is time to start analyzing whether the district still needs 10 (voting) sites.
So that that they’re not just making random decisions, district officials will canvas districts of similar nature and status to see how many voting sites they have and how they disperse them around their districts.
Halsey will bring that information back to the board on a regular basis so that if the district does decide to make a reduction in its voting sites, they can articulate why and show that it’s really a financial decision, he said.
“Maybe for the past three years, go back and look at different sites that have had low turnout. If we only have 150 people voting in a certain area, that might be a way for us to look at what sites are needed,” board member Sam Tripp suggested.
Board member Tom DeCastro said he was approached by an elections commissioner who told him that he had gone around to ensure the machines were in order and noticed that “it was very easy for anybody off the street to just walk right in to a school without anybody checking or what have you.”
They need to look into having a single point of access, he added.
There was security in the schools (where voting was taking place) up until the time when students were dismissed, the superintendent pointed out.
“We did try to alleviate that (issue) because it was a concern of ours as well,” Halsey said.
The district isn’t obligated to hold the voting in schools. All it needs is to have an appropriately accessible site (within the district), it is up to an individual district to make arrangements, the superintendent said.
“I think we’re a large enough district with other facilities, that may be an option,” he said.
It would address parking and safety issues especially around the times when students are being dismissed and there is heavy bus traffic at the schools, he added.
Tripp agreed, adding that older people who like to vote in the afternoon sometimes don’t because they don’t want to get in the middle of the buses and private vehicles picking up students.
Currently, only four of the district’s 10 sites aren’t in schools – the Education Center and the McCrobie Building in Oswego and the Scriba and Oswego Town sites.
“We need to start the discussions now so that if we need to make any changes we’ll have plenty of time to be able to rationalize to the voters why. So we need to start now,” Halsey said.