Friday, January 29, 2010

The Week In Review

Well, where do I begin? Let's start with Monday. I went out to get the paper (in my shorts) and ended up stuck on Kasson Road on a sheet of ice an hour later. Buses were on their way, most middle school students were delivered, some elementary students were en route, and some were at home. A mess and too late to call anything or do anything about it.

A situation like Monday has only happened one other time in my 10 years as Superintendent. It took me 50 minutes to get to work (usually takes about 10) and I was sick to my stomach the entire day as I wondered how many accidents there had been and kept my fingers crossed for student drivers. Nine o'clock came and it was over. Don't ever think for a minute that we take school closing decisions or delays lightly or that we try to stay open just to receive state aid. We are in contact with about a dozen people before a decision is made, and most of us have our own children on the same buses and roads that you have your children on. Monday just happened without warning and quite frankly, it stunk.

Also on the "stink-o-meter" is the budget for next year. You might recall from my previous posts that as we create the budget for next year we were looking at a budget gap of approximately $2.5M. This is after we rolled this year's budget over and applied some reserve funds, making sure that we have enough reserves left for the next few challenging years.

We decided to freeze spending for the remainder of the school year, and we feel that this maneuver will bring the budget gap to $1.8M. We then looked at student enrollment and the number of staff that we have to serve the student population. We have had a slight enrollment decline from about 5,200 students early last year to an estimated 4,950 students when we begin classes in September. This reduction in enrollment caused us to perform an exercise called "Adjusting to Scale" where we take a look at every department and make sure that we have the correct number of staff for each duty that needs to be performed.

As a result of this exercise we are going to make reductions in administration, district office staff, operational support staff, teaching staff, teaching assistant and aide staff, athletics, fine arts, building support staff, and buildings and grounds staff. While difficult, these decisions would be made even in ideal economic conditions based on enrollment. These reductions will cause approximately 14.5 position cuts.

The result of this adjustment, as well as the elimination of non-essential overtime and conferences, leaves us with a gap of $1M. This gap will hopefully be closed through negotiations with staff and the impact of retirements. If not we will need to conduct a second round of cuts that will dig deeper into administration, athletics, fine arts, and instruction.

The nice thing about this District and community is the sense of family and the trust that we have for each other. I appreciate the opportunity to try and think outside of the box in meeting our budget challenges. Many of my colleagues will have to close their budget gaps with straight staff reductions (would have been about 80 people in our case). That would be tough.

For those of you who are somewhat in tune with taxes and school budgets, our resulting budget will have less of a tax impact than that of a "contingency" budget, or a failed budget. It is what it is, and we will adapt and overcome.

Now for some good news… We have somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 volunteers (BOE members, students, and staff) for the upcoming Special Olympics. I think this is a great turn out and exemplifies all that we believe in for children.

Our hockey and swim teams are cranking right along and seem poised to compete deeply into State level competition.

College acceptance letters keep pouring in for our seniors and on a percentage basis, more of our seniors have earned the opportunity to receive a college acceptance letter. This in conjunction with those entering the Armed Services or those attending a trade school, put us in line to have one of the highest completion rates on record.

The high school musical is next week and it has the makings to be amazing. I will be attending Wicked this evening and I am proud to be in a District where I can make comparisons between school performances and off-Broadway productions. Nice work.

Time to head out into buildings and have some fun! Have a great weekend.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Discussion with the Superintendent

Thanks to all who attended our meeting last night. In case you have not attended, and were wondering what the "Discussion with the Superintendent" is all about, people come to the meeting and write questions down on 3 x 5 index cards. The questions are then categorized by type, and I then read and answer all of the questions that I am given.

There were many different topics last night. Probably the most prevalent was the budget. What to cut, how to cut, how deep will cuts be, etc... Last night was a little too early to give in-depth answers, but as a starting point I mentioned that the gap we need to fill, one way or the other, is $2.5M. Cuts will start in our District Office and will end where they need to end in order to balance the budget. Any programming that will be affected will be programs that serve the fewest number of students, or are not mandated. There isn't one program or department that is "liked" over another; it is business. We will conduct our business. Variables that will impact the severity of cuts include the outcome of negotiations with various groups and the number of retirement notifications that the District receives, as well as any softening of the blow the legislators will be able to provide. Weekly updates regarding the budget will be available right here. Stay tuned.

Other topics included on-line programming, our at-risk initiative, and technology. These are all great topics because we are in the middle of growing programs in each of those categories. Each of these categories have shown immediate results in student achievement and each of these categories are helping us to achieve our goal of a 100% completion rate. January two years ago there were 9 students who were unable to graduate, this January the number is 3. Quite a jump for programs that started in November.

I was also asked if our pool was going to close because the pool at Onondaga Community College is going to close. Quite the contrary. We are estimating that we will receive more requests to use our pool which will help us to generate some additional revenue.

Other questions included service sharing, summer school, our early graduation date this year, IEP diplomas, assistive technology for students with disabilities, transportation, sports teams that practice over the breaks, residency issues, and drug and alcohol use among students at the high school. All great questions.

In a nutshell and to address the questions posed above I offer the following:
  • We currently share services with Solvay School District and the Town of Camillus. We service major issues for Solvay buses which generates transportation aid and allows us to staff a mechanic through a contract with Solvay. Solvay does not need to fund a facility and a full range of staffing. We both save. The Town of Camillus shares facilities so that residents can participate in Town run programs at school facilities at a reduced rate we our hockey team is able to use the ice at Shove Park at a reduced rate. We are looking at more ways to share.
  • Summer School is a large program that doesn't cost as much as people think. By offering Summer School students can complete their courses of study and not cost the District extra resources if they were to return behind in subjects. We will explore a BOCES partnership to possibly save money in this area.
  • The West Genesee Central School District philosophy regarding graduation is that if a child is eligible to complete their course of study by the end of June they are invited to Commencement. This being said, it doesn't matter if graduation was held on June 3,7,13,20, or 30 for that matter. The same students would be eligible to cross the stage.
    IEP Diplomas, or diplomas that are sometimes rewarded to students with disabilities may be changed to a Certificate of Completion with targeted goals listed right on the certificate. More to follow as we know more from the New York State Education Department.
  • We are bringing more and more assistive technology devices into our District. This can come in the form of hearing devices, computer systems, wheel chairs, or other equipment that helps a child with a disability to participate in a more inclusive manner. There will always be work to be done in this area.
  • Ninety-nine buses run each day to pick up students, and our buses travel approximately 1,000,000 miles each year. This being said, we continue to maximize our bus runs and may be looking at a system where buses do not stop at houses where students either receive a ride each day or drive themselves to school. We will have to work within the confines of transportation law to make this happen but difficult economic times require out of the box ideas.
  • Sports teams do practice over break and as soon as the entire Section III stops this practice we will follow suit. We are one of 32 District's that practice and play contests over breaks. I have just started as a Section III Athletics Council Member, and I will continue to bring this topic up. It has certainly factored personally into the decisions that are made regarding what sports my own children play.
  • Residency is important. People who try to send their children to our school and live outside the District are tracked by private investigators and are dealt with as soon as we are aware. If you think you have information we need to know what you think you know so we can investigate.
  • When asked if we have a "drug problem" in our high school the simple answer is that we have the same problems that every high school USA has when it comes to drug and alcohol use among students. There is more than anyone wants to admit but at the same time the use is fairly isolated to pockets of students. The job is to find those pockets, get them help, and get drugs and alcohol out of the school. Period.

Probably a longer post than normal but I wanted to summarize what was asked last night. Stay tuned for budget and other updates as we begin to navigate unchartered waters.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Many things have happened in ten short days. For starters, we are back in the saddle and running all of our classes and events. Data we have received thus far concerning Elementary assessments is better than expected, and our at-risk initiative in the middle and high schools has already helped position six students who might not have graduated, to graduate on time in June.

Financially speaking, your guess is as good as mine. Suffice it to say that we are going to need to do more, or at least the same, with fewer resources. Although in the State of the State address given by the Governor he did not specifically mention cuts to schools, but it is safe to say that there will be major reductions in what we are given as far as State Aid for next year. If we were to roll our budget over based on what we think the State will be providing us, our tax levy would not be acceptable to you or me.

Mr. Pelton, the Assistant Superintendent for Management Services, and I are calculating how much money will need to be reduced from our budget in order to present something to you that we and the Board of Education think is acceptable. If I had to make an educated guess with the information that I have today, I would put our reduction amount just north of $1,000,000. We pooled supplies, combined positions, and changed how we delivered some services last year to close a gap of nearly $2,000,000. With those options mainly gone, we are going to have to take a hard look at all staffing and make some decisions that will be difficult but will be necessary for our long term success.

I have been asked when is this economic condition going to end? When can we just run a “regular” school year? I believe that the answer is 2012 but that is dependent on the State and local Government. Decisions at those levels need to be focused, with long-term vision and an understanding that moving forward, we will not be able to operate as we have been. As I always tell people, we will get it done.

On the positive side, the U.S. Education Department is trying to start an initiative called “Race to the Top”. Essentially the program is to reform schools across the U.S. so that teacher preparation, evaluation, and assessment is better so that instruction and results can improve. Each state, including New York, has applied for these funds. West Genesee could see up to $700,000 in funding to revamp some of our programs to meet the specifications of “Race to the Top”. We should know by April. Any type of award would most likely not affect the 2010-2011 budget, but would affect the 2011-2012 budget. This is okay because we could use that funding down the road as the economy recovers and we are always looking for any tools that will make us better as a District.

Have a great week!