by Kathleen Duff
With one week to go before the proposed 2011-12 Grand Island school budget is voted on by the Board of Education, trustees faced many comments from the public during Monday's evening meeting in the Middle School Little Theater.
Of greatest concern to the many residents present was the proposed partial shutdown of the Grand Island High School swimming pool, a facility used not only for interscholastic team events and gym classes, but also for community swim club and other water-related activities.
Mary West of East River Road called the pool "an institution" and "an asset and not a liability" to the district and town. Other people commented that the pool provides everything from great health benefits and family recreation to discipline and a good work ethic to the children who swim daily as part of the Grand Island Piranhas.
Shawn Carey, father of GIHS swim champion Evan Carey, presented the board with petitions containing 1,012 signatures from Grand Islanders wanting the pool schedule to remain unchanged. He cited the academic benefits that come to all swimmers - champions or not - who "hit the pool at 5:30 a.m."
Later in the meeting, School Superintendent Robert Christmann outlined the monthly costs of maintaining the pool - items that include cleaning time, water, test supplies and chemicals. Monthly, the cost is $7,540 and annually, $90,480. Christmann expressed his own disbelief when he saw the numbers. The proposed pool cuts involve closing the facility from mid-March to mid-August. Boys and girls interscholastic swimming would be untouched, and after-school and weekend use would continue. Christmann plans a meeting with Grand Island Town Supervisor Peter McMahon, the Town Board and the town's recreation department to further discuss the pool situation.
Christmann reiterated his assertion from previous board meetings when the budget has been discussed that reductions at this point in the process are proposals only and that all areas of the schools need to be examined for possible cuts. Residents spoke to the board keeping programs such as art intact, citing the many benefits for the college-and non-college-bound student.
"The governor is doing us a great disservice," Christmann stated, referring to Gov. Andrew Cuomo saying that all school districts with reserve funds need to use them up this year. Christmann said part of Grand Island's reserve funds were used last year, some will be used this year, and some need to be saved to plug anticipated holes in the 2012-13 budget as estimated revenues and aid continue to plummet and major impact expenditures increase.
"The budget shortfall as of today," Christmann said, is "$426,407." Even the close examination of expenditures on everything from seventh grade foreign language to printing of school calendars to personnel such as teachers, monitors and clerical staff leaves Christmann to suggest that the board consider a tax increase to Island residents.
Christmann also announced that his salary would be frozen for this budget, and that a worrisome problem has arisen with many local businesses seeking a decrease in their tax assessments from the town.
The 2011-12 budget will be further honed this week, with a final version voted on by trustees on Monday, April 4. Public vote on these numbers is Tuesday, May 17, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the high school gym.
In the "Good News" part of the agenda, Superintendent Christmann announced that Grand Island High School has received notification of International Baccalaureate program certification. IB courses will begin in the fall 2011 semester. This program will "add a whole new dimension," Christmann said, "to becoming the best academic school we can be."
In addition, trustees learned that Women and Children's Hospital has sent a letter to Kaegebein Elementary School thanking its students for their valentine's program, which benefited patients and their families at the hospital.