by Kathleen Duff
Monday evening the Grand Island Board of Education worked through a lengthy agenda of approvals, reports and tabling of items.
The board also had a new look, which included new Interim Superintendent of Schools Paul Hashem, Vice President Paul Krull presiding and trustee Tak Nobumoto in attendance via Skype. Trustee Joan Droit was absent due to a medical problem, and the board is functioning without a president since David Goris' resignation earlier in the month.
Hashem spoke about his start in the district on Jan. 10, saying that he spent time with outgoing Interim Superintendent Robert Christmann on his last day with the district.
"The welcoming has been outstanding," Hashem stated, detailing his meetings with administrators and other staff. He has toured all five school buildings and talked extensively with the staff at buildings and grounds and at the bus garage. He is encouraging an "open door" policy at his office. He has also talked at length with Grand Island Town Supervisor Mary Cooke.
Monday's agenda included a capital project update from Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance Joe Giarrizzo. He told the board that he expects a February approval from the State Education Department on the district's plans for the technology wing and other improvements at Grand Island High School. Some parts of the high school "will come off-line mid-April," Giarrizzo said. Rooms will be emptied and people relocated to accommodate the construction. Over the summer, only office staff will be in the Ransom Road complex. Extensive auditorium improvements at the high school will begin January of 2014 and continue through August of that year. The district will be a construction site in one location or another for the next three years.
Under items for approval, the board said, "yes" to the purchase of a new bus routing software suite called Versatrans. Recommended by district Transportation Director Jack Burns, the new system, according to Giarrizzo, is "very efficient and easily intuitive." It is also fully aidable through the state. The board also approved $19,500 in travel expenses for International Baccalaureate teachers to receive level 2 training. Assistant High School Principal Andres Arroyo told trustees that all IB teachers must complete their training this year so all students in the program can complete their requirements.
Regarding the 2013-14 school district budget, Giarrizzo reported that Grand Island faces a $1,514,000 gap between revenue and expenditures. The figure comes in the wake of the state numbers presented by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the executive budget proposal. Giarrizzo had expected more money from Albany than may actually be coming. (Cuomo proposes an increase in state aid of $141,000 whereas $197,000 was expected.) Giarrizzo and Hashem both emphasized that the Teacher Retirement System and the Employee Retirement System are state-mandated lines in the local school budget with TRS being around 12 percent of the total budget for the coming year. Giarrizzo said that he is looking at the Erie 1 BOCES budget "line by line," and that with any budget, school officials and the Board of Education must look at personnel, program and savings accounts carefully each year.
In an update on the superintendent search, Krull told trustees that to date 39 people have applied to the district. Ten are considered candidates, and nine have had preliminary interviews. From this, three or four will be final candidates to be interviewed by a 12-person search committee. The district hopes to have the new superintendent in place by July 1.
To fill the vacant seat left by the resignation of Goris, the board has a few options:
•Hold a special election for the seat,
•The superintendent could appoint someone for 90 days, or
•Leave the position open.
The board decided to table the decision until the next meeting.
Also tabled was a policy decision on high school hallwalking. The evening activity was a paid-for community education course for many years, but was made free and unsupervised in recent months with lockers assigned to those wishing to participate. Hashem said there have been concerns about the lack of supervision and about giving out locker space to anyone simply calling on the phone. As such, he has suspended giving out lockers, and, at the next board meeting, trustees will decide on a final policy.
The next meeting of the Grand Island Board of Education is Monday, Feb. 11, in the Veronica Connor Middle School Little Theater, 1100 Ransom Road.
Board of Education Trustees