Sunday, April 24, 2011

Welcome Back

If you were fortunate enough to get out of town for a few days over the Spring break, congratulations! For those who stayed here it was more of the same: cold, rain, some snow, and mostly cloudy skies. For all of these April showers there better be some State Fair prize winning May flowers ahead!

I am often asked why our sports teams have games or tournaments over the break periods. Good question. I am absolutely not in favor of practices or games over our break periods, but I am just one voice out of a few dozen in the county athletic organization. I have been a coach so I know exactly what it is like to have to practice and have tournaments over Thanksgiving, Winter, mid-Winter, and Spring break. My feeling is that the students, parents, and even coaches need some family time. I also understand that we do have scholarship level athletes in our organization so if we HAVE to play then all hands need to be on deck because winning is an important part of exposure especially at the varsity level.

I will continue to advocate for a true break in each of my future years as superintendent.  The Syracuse University football program recognizes Spring break and they are full of scholarship level athletes in a multi-million dollar program, for example.  Maybe this will be an area where the budget woes will actually help us.

Do not blink between now and the end of the year or you will miss something. There are fewer than thirty class days left before final exams. We have all kinds of recognition ceremonies, parades, concerts, Board meetings, budget presentations, and sports in the days and weeks ahead. The weather will also finally be breaking so the temptation for all of us to just stay home and sit on the deck will be there as well. 

I will be presenting the school budget during the next few weeks at various locations. I am closely watching budget action (or lack thereof) at the state level and will be sure to incorporate any last minute state budget changes into our own budgeting for next school year.

Have a great week and I will be sure to reach out again soon-


Sunday, April 10, 2011

And Now the Feds...

The week before Spring break is always interesting. Students and staff are itchy to get a week off before the final push toward the end of the school year. The weather should be nice, and I think that we can all use a little breather. Most of us will be working to finish the budget, prepare items for the vote in May, and begin planning for exams and graduation. 

We will also be picking up the pieces surrounding all of the reductions that we have to make for next year in response to the Governor's budget. We are in the process now of waiting to see how much is cut from the Federal budget for education and also waiting to move past the budget vote on May 17 to assemble groups of people to try and figure out new and different ways to provide the services that we have had to reduce. We will find answers to most of the challenges that lie ahead, but the key is to think differently.

Have a great week, and I hope to be able to post again before Spring break.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Safety Update

We seldom receive warnings or notices regarding school safety and when we do we take immediate action. Late last evening I received an e-mail (pasted below) that outlines a general threat to certain branches of elected officials and school buses in the state of New York. We have been advised to take necessary precautions during our "pre and post" bus trip time and for our drivers to be extra observant of any odd behavior while out on the road.

Our Transportation Department and our bus drivers take extreme care each and every day. Our buses have been checked for safety, and our drivers are constantly observant of their surroundings. I did want to pass this message along however because you may see this letter of description of a threat on the news, and I wanted you as parents and community members to know that we have things covered.

If you have any additional questions please do not hesitate to contact me.


Letter Received from New York State Education Department


On Friday, April 1, a threatening email was sent from an unknown email
account to members of the media and various state officials. The email
references threats of violence in state office buildings, against the
state legislature and a specific reference to school buses.

The New York State Police, the State Office of Counter Terrorism,
Federal Bureau of Investigation and other officials are devoting their
resources to this matter and are working with other law enforcement

We encourage all those involved in school transportation to remain
aware of their surroundings and report any suspicious activity as
indicated below. As a reminder, all drivers and technicians should
conduct pre trip and post trip inspections with the diligence they do
each day but with an added sense of caution and urgency.

We encourage all drivers and attendants to be watchful for unknown
individuals or any suspicious or unusual behavior along their routes or
at bus stops as well as individuals approaching the school bus. Drivers
should be particularly strict about unknown or unauthorized individuals
attempting to board the school bus. School Transportation supervisors
should be prepared to receive concerns from school bus drivers,
attendants and technicians and assume all observations to be valid until
proven otherwise.

School bus dispatchers should also be prepared and ready to receive
such concerns from school bus drivers and to transmit those concerns or
observations as appropriate to the school district.

If you or your transportation team witness or observe any behavior or
individuals of concern or suspicion, you should report same by calling
the state’s toll free hotline at 1-866-SAFENYS or 1-866-723 3697.

Ken Slentz, Associate Commissioner, Office of District Services
New York State Education Department

Charles A. Szuberla, Jr., Assistant Commissioner, Office of School
New York State Education Department

Monday, April 4, 2011

Slight of Hand?

When the new State Aid figures were released last week they were not even close to what had been released by the Governor's office in November. At first sight it looked like West Genesee was going to receive an additional $2M in State Aid. The news even reported that our State Aid cut was reduced by more than 50% from the original listing.

A much closer look revealed that the Governor's State Aid run in November did not include a Federal piece called the "Jobs Money" but the new run from last week did.  The "Jobs Money" for West Genesee is close to $1.6M. Take that out of the equation and tighten up Transportation, Building, and BOCES Aid and you end up with a State Aid increase of about $580K.

I was asked over and over again if I felt that the changes in how the aid was listed was a "slight of hand" by the Governor's office. I really don't know. All I can tell you is that his first run did not include a line item that this final run did. 

It is very difficult to explain how a school district receives state aid. Generally speaking, the amount of State Aid that a school receives is dependent on the "wealth" of the district. This wealth is determined by studying the income tax receipts, property values, and the percent of students who receive free/reduced lunch. This is why you might see a neighboring school getting a higher State Aid increase or decrease than West Genesee.

Either way, the amount of State Aid that we received is not going to be enough to bring back any programs that we have scheduled to reduce or eliminate for next year. Even if we did look at bringing back anything we would just be cutting it again next year because the Governor is still focusing on a tax cap and he has already indicated that the State Aid increase for next year will be minimal. We will be using the additional aid to lower our tax levy from 4.8% to 3.8%, fulfilling some contractual obligations, and placing the remainder into our reserves to prepare for another difficult budget in 2012-2013.

I am looking forward to meeting with people to figure out how to move forward with fewer resources because I feel strongly that West Genesee can create new and better ways to do some of the things that have been done "the same way" for decades in all schools in New York State. We will be evaluating our efforts throughout the upcoming year to make sure that what services we do provide are of the highest quality.
I do appreciate your support through our wage freeze efforts, your understanding that programs and people in each area of our schools are going to have to be reduced, and that we cannot make it out of this fiscal crisis by doing what we have always been doing. 

On another note Mrs. Brown and I had the opportunity to attend the Culture Fair on Saturday. As always, what a great event! We sampled food from many different cultures, got to talk with people from around the world, and got to see several different shows performed by people representing several different cultures. I would like to thank Theresa Williams and her helpers for coordinating such a fine event. I am looking forward to next year already! To view a photo gallery of pictures from the event, click here.

It looks like I will be able to get back on schedule this coming week and get into buildings each day to see the students and staff doing their best. This time of the year and especially the budget building process makes this difficult. but I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel; and it is not an oncoming train!

Have a great week-