Sunday, December 19, 2010

Poet I Am Not

Greetings and welcome to the most unpredictable four days of the school year. In the eleven years that I have been a superintendent, this time of the year normally presents the most unusual behavior out of students, staff, parents, and probably myself. The joys and pressures of the holiday season converge in what can only be described as a science fair volcano; you know it is going to erupt, but you don't know if it is going to spill onto the carpet!

I am looking very forward to visiting classrooms this week and experiencing these last four days before break with your kids. I hope to be able to share many of my visits on Twitter, and I leave you with a poem that I wrote which should reassure you that I am not quitting my day job! 

My next blog post will most likely come after the holidays. Have a safe and enjoyable holiday season with family and friends.


‘Twas the week before winter break

And all through the school
People were stressing
About the temperature of the high school pool.

Students and teachers are all wondering where
A two-hour delay comes from, even when the weather seems fair.

What to do over break is the topic of talk
X-box, sledding, shoveling and clearing the sidewalk?

One thing is for sure, and that we will all see
Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Christmas; the “holidays” they will be!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Odds and Ends

Greetings from the frozen tundra of Syracuse, New York. We are going to try our best to get through this week with as few interruptions as possible, and as I write this message East Hill is beginning their great holiday concert that I had a chance to see this morning (pictures available on It will be very important for you to check or our Facebook fan page (which you can access from the home page of the web site by clicking on the Facebook icon in the upper right corner) if you have children, grandchildren, nieces, or nephews involved in athletic or fine arts programs to make sure that events are being held as scheduled.

You might have seen some information about a Special Education services audit that was completed by the New York State Comptrollers Office. While the audit summarized that the District did nothing wrong, they did criticize the District for not seeking the lowest per hour price for the people who work with our Students with Disabilities (low bidding is not required for confidential services such as services for children with disabilities). The decision was made to not take the lowest bidder for Special Education services (we pay about $5 more per hour than the lowest priced provider) because we feel that our children, and especially those with disabilities, need consistent services provided by adults that we have individually interviewed to provide the best fit for each individual student with a disability. We would not be able to do this for our students if we just went with the lowest bidder for the services.  If we need to take the hit for that, then so be it. A copy of our audit will be made available on our web site, and if you have any questions please feel free to contact me.

Speaking of audits and budgets, the governor-elect announced today that he is going to be pushing for a tax cap of 2% or the cost of inflation whichever is less (right now inflation is about .9%). He also intends to make the biggest reductions to health care and education. As it stands right now voters (with a 60% majority) will be able to vote to go above the cap.  For West Genesee, the tax cap will cause us to have a gap of about $5M to close. The first thing you might think of is a pay freeze, which I know my staff and I would consider, but the total amount saved from a pay freeze is about $730,000, quite a distance away from the $5M gap that we might need to close. Our principals, directors, and I are prioritizing athletic, fine arts, and academic programs that we may have to do without to close this gap, and I have been working with neighboring districts to discuss consolidation and sharing of service opportunities. We should have some better information right after the holidays, and I appreciate your support through what will be the most challenging times for the New York State public education system.

Our anti-bullying climate survey is also going well. We have administered the survey to approximately 3,000 students so far and hope to have it completed by the beginning of next week. I will post the overall results once we have them, and our team will meet right after the holidays to take our next steps.

Stay warm these next few days. I am hoping that my snow blower will be repaired in time to clean up the snow that is coming this week!

Take care-


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Whoever is Dreaming of a White Christmas Can Start Dreaming about Something Else!

Well, these last few days have been pretty interesting. With the thought of another Winter storm hitting on Sunday, my wife reminded me that since Monday I have worked (happily, of course) 16 hours before 8:00 a.m. The people who have worked much more than me, however, are the plow crews. Yes they get overtime, but would you want to work for four days straight on about five hours of sleep? Thanks to our own crews, as well as the Town and County crews, for working to keep us safe and our schools and businesses open. 

I also want to thank our bus drivers. I used to be a volunteer firefighter and spent time driving all kinds of fire trucks to fire calls. That is nothing compared to driving the same sized vehicle with 60 passengers on board (many with ants in their pants) on snowy roads. Many of you have thanked them for their great driving and service especially in these tough conditions, and we will celebrate the week tomorrow with coffee and donuts and I will pass along your thanks.

Then there are the food service workers. Imagine cooking a big dinner at your home and then receiving a call from your spouse or kids telling you that they "can't make it".  That is the feeling that our staff get every time we delay or close...when cooking for 5,000 students. They have to meal plan, schedule, and work twice as hard on delay days to keep the cafeteria in good working order.

It seems like we will get through the rest of the week without interruption and we will see what next week brings. Now, put yourself in the shoes of Mr. Davern, our Director of Fine Arts, and Mr. Pascale, our Director of Athletics. We missed three days of concerts, practices, games, rehearsals, and training. They are working together right now to try to reschedule everything and have the least number of conflicts. They both will have to stack games and concerts on top of each other in order to fit everything in before the holidays and they and I appreciate your understanding. In my own house I have an 8th grader who has missed a game and concert and a 10th grader who has missed three practices and a scrimmage. 

Stay tuned to our website and Facebook for scheduling updates. Please remember that next Monday and Tuesday look questionable also, so the beginning of next week could very well be "next verse same as the first" no pun intended.

The real bummer for me this week is that I will probably not be able to get to every classroom as I usually do, but I am sure that the students and staff will be understanding.

Have a great rest of the week and weekend.


Monday, December 6, 2010

A One-Hour Delay...?

Welcome to Winter in Central New York. One might ask why I chose to have a one-hour delay when it does snow a lot here in Syracuse. I made the decision because this is our first significant snowfall on the morning of a school day and all of us need to get back up to speed on how to handle these conditions. I felt it was unsafe to have our high school students out at the bus stops in the dark while plows were out for the first time, and we were on the roads trying to get to work on time. The one extra hour gives everyone time to slow down, our students a chance to wait in the daylight, and an opportunity to have most of a school day. 

Please do not ever think that a delay is due to our own school buses or our own parking lots and sidewalks. Our buses are the safest vehicles to travel on during this weather. They all have the best tires, brakes, wipers, and drivers on board that you can find, and they are all "pre-tripped" (all aspects of the buses are checked out and tested) and de-iced prior to hitting the roads. Ice is the only enemy of buses and on those days, we do not have school. Our building and grounds crews work through the night to make sure that parking lots and sidewalks are plowed and that everything is salted. All of our staff take tremendous pride in making sure that everything is ready for school, and I always get calls from them when we do delay letting me know that they have everything ready for when students and staff do arrive.

Afternoon and evening activities are a different story. As the temperatures drop and the evening commute begins, I have to make the decision to have students and parents traveling back to school for practices and events. If you were to chart my decisions over the past eleven years, I think you would find that I have cancelled afternoon and evening activities far more than delayed or closed school. Safety first. It is supposed to snow like this through Thursday, so we will see what happens.

This week is pretty interesting. While I do not have many night-time commitments (only four nights this week!) my days are going to be packed with meetings about the budget. What would be really helpful would be to get some face time with some of our elected officials about the budget, but I cannot get a return phone call from any of them. If I could get a general understanding of the size of the deficit schools are going to face I could make some very concrete budget decisions at an early stage, but I guess for now we will just plan for the worst and hope for the best!

Later this week (probably Friday) I am going to post a presentation that I gave to the Board of Eduction outlining my thoughts to date regarding the budget and what we are going to need to do to balance our finances in the wake of a tax cap, reduced state aid, and reduced federal aid. After the holidays I will release the entire report and we will start making decisions.

Speaking of decisions, the Board of Education and I have agreed to a four and a half year contract extension for me to remain superintendent of schools. I am pleased and very appreciative of the support I have received from the Board of Education, staff, community, and students. With this agreement in place we can now concentrate on moving the District through the most challenging times that New York State has ever seen.

Well, have a great week and remember that closing or delays are always on Twitter ( before they are on radio or television. (Also, check the facebook fan page for updates.)