by Luanne Zuccari
Orleans/Niagara BOCES community outreach coordinator
Some Niagara-Wheatfield residents are wondering how, in these tight economic times for schools, the Board of Education can be putting to a vote an $11 million capital project that includes more than $4 million in safety updates and the rest in Greenway plans to create and improve recreational opportunities for students and the community.
The Greenway part of the plan is funded with N-W's part of the New York State Power Authority Greenway Fund, at no cost to the taxpayer. But what about the Safe Schools part of the project? The answer lies in the way New York's Gov. David Paterson has structured state aid for schools.
"While the governor's state aid to education proposal severely reduces monies going to local school districts for operating expenses, his proposed 2010-11 budget continues to increase building aid to the state's public schools," said N-W's School Business Manager Kerin Dumphrey. "The reduction in operating aid is not good news. However, an increase in building aid confirms this may be the last time schools like Niagara-Wheatfield, which is proposing this capital improvement project, can take advantage of high state building aid."
The way in which the state budget is structured allows for the governor to make an increase in one area (building aid), while making decreases in another area (operating aid), he explained. In Niagara-Wheatfield's case, 86 percent of what the state allows to be aidable in the proposed $5 million capital improvement project for school safety will come from state building aid, while 14 percent of the aidable portion will come from the voters.
One hundred percent of the Integrated Greenway and Recreation Project at the high school/middle school site will come entirely from such state building aid or the Host Community Greenway Fund (a result of Niagara-Wheatfield's participation in the relicensing agreement with the New York State Power Authority), Dumphrey said. "Without the state's financial commitment to maintaining its public schools, most districts would not be able to afford to keep their facilities up to the demands of the state Education Department's safety codes."
Much needed safety updates for Niagara-Wheatfield Central School District buildings and facilities are part of a capital project plan that will be considered by voters in the district on Tuesday, Sept. 21, when they go to the polls to vote on the $11,085,000 measure designed to update facilities and improve recreational facilities and opportunities for both students and the public.
"There is nothing more important in a school district than to ensure the safety and security of our students, in order to provide the kind of learning environment they need to achieve," said Superintendent of Schools Carl Militello. "This plan, at this time, with the advantages built in for financing it, is something we, as a district, cannot afford not to do."
"The Safe Schools part of this plan totals $4,991,000, which will cost the average homeowner in the district about $21 more per year for three or four years, and includes safety improvements that have been needed for some time," said Dumphrey. "We can't put off measures that make our students, and in many cases, members of our community, safe and more secure. We have an opportunity to use some funding that will very likely not be available to us in the future, and now is the optimum time to get this work done."
The Greenway Plan part of the capital project totals more than $6 million, and is funded primarily by the district's part of the New York State Power Authority Greenway Fund. Work included in this part of the plan will be completed at no cost to taxpayers.
The safety work for the high school will include $750,000 for replacing 50,000 square feet of roofing over the pool, gym, cafeteria and auditorium area; $263,000 for expanding the technology server room to increase cooling, power and move equipment; and $105,000 for installation of 14 interactive white boards or projectors. At Edward Town Middle School, the plan includes $105,000 to install 14 white boards; $631,000 to replace concrete entrance steps and handrails in the front of the building; to add a snow melt system and additional lighting to improve safety. At West Street Elementary School, included is $70,000 to install white boards. Colonial Village Elementary is slated for $1,063,000 for replacement of degraded parking lots; reconfiguration of the school bus drop-off areas; improvements to the storm water drainage system; new sidewalks for handicapped accessibility; adding new playground and building accessibility; and $240,000 for a new vented synthetic gym floor. At Errick Road Elementary, work planned includes $881,000 for installation of 10 white boards and additional storm drain installation.
Interactive whiteboards are used in schools today as replacements for traditional whiteboards or flipcharts. They provide ways to show students anything that can be presented on a computer's desktop (educational software, websites, and others). In addition, interactive whiteboards allow teachers to record their instruction and post the material for review by students at a later time. This can be a very effective instructional strategy for students who benefit from repetition, who need to see the material presented again, for students who are absent from school, for struggling learners, and for review for examinations. Students can record brief instructional blocks for review - they will see the exact presentation that occurred in the classroom with the teacher's audio input. This can help transform learning and instruction.
"Some safety updates that benefit students and the public are included in the Greenway Funding and can be brought about at no cost to taxpayers," said Dumphrey. "For instance, increasing the available storage space for field and track equipment, improvements to the stadium bleachers, resurfacing of the track, updates for the restrooms to bring them up to code, the new kitchen area, and locker rooms are all safety improvements that are included in the Greenway portion of the capital project."
Because of the importance of the safety and security measures that are included in this project, the district urges residents to go to the polls and vote on Sept. 21. Polling will be held at the Niagara-Wheatfield High School Adult Learning Center on Saunders Settlement Road from noon to 8 p.m.