by Alex Muto
The regular Niagara-Wheatfield Board of Education meeting on Aug. 1 saw a great deal of activity during the nearly three-hour session. Issues covered ranged from the progress of the capital improvement project overseen by Delbert Ambrosia, the district's director of facilities and operations, to financial issues such as budget cuts and layoffs. The two central issues voted on included the appointment of registered nurses versus licensed practical nurses and a policy for funding non-league sports games.
Following a lengthy executive session regarding a personnel matter, Ambrosia presented the board with a review of the district's capital improvement project and an update on its progress.
Ambrosia reviewed the changes being made to the district's sports complex, including new blacktop on the trails and rubberized surfaces on the tracks, as well as new concession stands, restroom facilities, storage, handicapped-accessible bleachers, and a press box. He then described technological updates, including the installation of a new district server, air conditioning, and increased power for technological needs.
He also presented a conceptual rendering of Colonial Village School's new project. Changes include moving the principal's office improved drop-off and pick-up areas for the children, which will "make the school safer" by allowing the principal better ability to monitor children.
Ambrosia concluded with target dates for each of the many projects, and said that "most of these dates center around making sure the school is safe at the beginning of the year." He assured the board members that "overall, we are in good shape" in terms of budget and completion dates.
Board members were enthusiastic, each thanking him for his dedication to the project. Board member Kathleen Fleming congratulated Ambrosia on his accomplishments, and said, "there aren't any more beautiful grounds on other local school districts."
In order to comply with New York state law, board members turned their attention to the school's policies in hiring nursing staff. Board members passed a resolution to ensure that the school district will only employ RNs for each building.
Board member Richard Sirianni expressed concerns about laying off a long-term LPN employee over less experienced employees. He argued, "I feel uncomfortable cutting an employee of 15 years over a four-year employee." Fellow board member Christopher Peters responded, "We can't talk about the individual situation ... we are talking about potential lawsuits. We need to be compliant with New York state laws."
When the motion was voted on, the motion passed five to two, with Sirianni and fellow board member Richard Halleen objecting.
Board of Education President Steve Sabo then raised a motion regarding the funding for district participation in non-league sports games. Sabo explained that "the board originally cut non-league games, but now booster clubs have come forward expressing interest in paying for (busing and referee) costs for these games. The problem is that we have no deadline for (payment)."
He and Peters agreed that it would "be a nightmare" if fundraising groups never reimburse the district.
At the suggestion the board might ban the games, girls' basketball Coach Diane Fegatilli and girls' booster club president Gina Terbot expressed shock. They already had scheduled games and assured the district they would fund the games no matter what.
"I'm willing to pay, fundraise, and come up with the money for my students," implored Fegatilli. Similarly, Terbot argued, "I'd give you the $350 check tonight for my students."
Sabo and other board members continued to discuss creating a policy that set clear payment deadlines. Ultimately, the board unanimously passed a compromise that Friday, Aug. 10, would be the deadline for non-league game payment.
In other matters, a motion to cut team leaders was approved 6-1. The rest of the personnel report was also passed unanimously.
Interim Superintendent James Knowles announced that school employees who retired during the past two years will be honored before the Board of Education meeting on Aug. 15 at 6:30 p.m.
The meeting marked the second appearances of Sabo after being re-elected as board president at last month's reorganization meeting, and Knowles.
Sabo cited his main goal for the year as "rebuilding the fund balance, and making sure the district can run more efficiently with less."
Knowles hopes to bring his many years of experience as both a tenured superintendent as well as his many interim positions to work with the district and board.
"This is not my first position as an interim superintendent," he said. "I did one at Iroquois Central Schools, then at the School of the Blind in Batavia and Warsaw. This is my fourth. I'm excited to be here. There's a lot of work to be done, and I have good people to work for."