by Kathleen Duff
At the Monday evening meeting of the Grand Island Board of Education, Superintendent Robert Christmann announced that official discussions for the 2011-12 school budget will begin at the next board meeting later in January.
Christmann gave board members the results of Cannon Design's survey of school building conditions, a comprehensive report of the good and bad of the state of repair of the five district school buildings. Christmann said that structural problems and program needs that existed during last year's budget time have carried over to this year with the failure of the November 2009 capital project referendum. Of special note was the condition of the outdoor track and tennis courts at the Ransom Road complex. "They are in rough shape," said board President Richard Little.
Furthermore, Little and Christmann both expressed concern that the public thoroughly understand the district's needs and finances because, as Christmann noted, "People don't come to meetings" where they could become more fully informed. The board wants to open as many avenues of communication to the public as possible during the budget process, before the vote in the spring, including regular Board of Education meetings, website updates, public forums and print media such as the district's The Bridge and through the Island Dispatch. The building condition survey is now available on the district website (www.k12.ginet.org).
Regarding education aid from New York state, Christmann said that statewide, the Board of Regents recommended state monies to increase by only $91 million, but that this is only a recommendation and not something to which Albany must adhere. Regents officials also recommended that building and transportation aid should be cut.
"We are anticipating a sizable decrease in state aid," Christmann warned, "probably in excess of $1 billion." Federal stimulus money would be used up with the current school budget. That loss, combined with the likely decrease in state aid, would prove to be "scary," Christmann said. "There will be an impact on schools."
In other money matters, Christmann reported that the New York State Public High School Athletic Association will continue its reduction of sporting contests each year for the next three years. This represents a cost savings in transportation and facility upkeep for all schools in the state. The superintendent also spoke about the 2011 FICA rate change. The FICA rate has been 6.2 percent for both schools and for individuals, but now is changed so that the individual rate is 4.2. The school rate remains unchanged at 6.2. Christmann also took note of Business First magazine's Western New York Wealthiest Zip Codes list. He noted that Grand Island ranks ninth in Western New York for net worth at $260,000 per person and that the median income stands at $73,660. The average income is $86,000.
Another topic explored by trustees was the safety of the Ransom Road area near the high school and middle school as traffic patterns and start times have changed since the beginning of the school year. Christmann said the teachers' union representatives expressed continuing concern about security at the schools' doors. Also, he said the union "has no interest in changing the shared schedule." The superintendent expressed gratitude toward the union for going with the new schedule. He also expressed frustration that the defeated capital project "would have helped with traffic patterns now" and that "Parents ignore traffic patterns and safety cones" when transporting their children to and from school.
Christmann also called on Cheryl Cardone, director of pupil personnel services to report on a recent study done by Futures Education. The group looked at how the needs of special education students in the district are serviced. The group concluded that all personnel involved with students with special needs would benefit from a review of educational laws, including an expansion of co-teaching (a combination of special education and regular classroom teachers) and professional development on various topics.
Right now, Cardone said, 10 percent of students within the district receive special education accommodations, and 5 percent have 504 plans, which address "life impairments" such as a physical disability. These percentages are over the average for the rest of New York state.
Futures Education posed the questions: "Are these plans really needed?" and "Are students being overserviced?" In addition, the consultants noted that there are a high number of group homes on Grand Island, helping to account for the higher number of needs identified and also that the ratio of personnel - such as occupational therapists, aides and others - to students is good. The group advised that more OT/ PT and speech groups be implemented with fewer one-on-one assignments made. Cardone stated that none of the findings or suggestions surprised administrators and that her department would work toward implementation of needed changes.
Finally, in "Good News" recognition, Athletic Director Jon Roth was lauded for receiving the 2011 New York State Athletic Administrator of the Year Award. He, in turn, applauded girls basketball coach Jenepher Banker for her 200th win in 13 seasons as coach.