By Larry Austin
Island Dispatch Editor
The two biggest labor unions in the Grand Island Central School District are partnering with the district to control health care costs.
District Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance Robert McDow told the Board of Education at its meeting Monday at Kaegebein Elementary School that the School Related Professionals union "approved resoundingly" a new contract.
McDow said the vote to approve was 134 to 25. The board approved the SRP contract extension at its Oct. 10 meeting and the offer was ratified Oct. 14 by the union.
McDow thanked the SRP union leadership and noted, "We now will not have to negotiate a contract with our SRP and our teachers for the next five years. That's exciting in the finance office."
The teachers union approved a contract extension last month.
Superintendent of Schools Brian Graham said in both contract negotiations, the unions agreed to the district self-funding health care.
Graham pointed out that at the Oct. 10 meeting, the external audit report noted health care costs rose 7 percent from one year to the next.
"By working to have our district self-fund health care, it will help us control and mitigate those costs, while providing the same health benefit," Graham said.
NY44 Health Benefits Plan Trust currently purchases health care for districts in the state for a fee. The district plans to end its agreement.
"This is a long-term solution to controlling our health care costs," Graham said. He added, "We're working very hard to try to get every union involved."
The contract provides the same health care benefit to every employee, Graham said, and includes a 1.25 percent pay increase, plus vision coverage that employees didn't have before.
Graham said health care costs amount to approximately $7.5 million in a $62 million school budget.
Graham said that the board at its Oct. 10 meeting approved tenure for Veronica Connor Middle School Principal John Fitzpatrick.
He began teaching in 1996 in the Niagara-Wheatfield Central School District and was assistant principal at Edward Town Middle School at N-W before being hired as principal at VCMS.
"Since then, John has been an amazing leader in our school district," Graham said. "John definitely believes in the value of being a continuous learner and he works hard to build relationships in his school, with his staff, students and parents."
In thanking the board, Fitzpatrick called VCMS "a team effort."
Also at Monday's meeting, the board heard a report from the Athletic Department on the new Unified Sports program that will begin in the spring.
Athletic Director Jon Roth said Unified Sports are in their third year of existence in Section VI and offer competition to disabled students in basketball, cross country and bowling. Now with teams from 23 schools, Unified Sports is "growing leaps and bounds," Roth said.
Unified Basketball is an inclusive program that combines athletes and partners training and competing together under similar rules as their varsity-caliber counterparts.
Chris DeMarco, who was athletic director at Sweet Home when that district started a Unified Sports program, told the BOE the program is a great way to foster respect and advocacy for disabled players from the entire school.
"We look for meaningful involvement, and what we mean by that is that every player is given the opportunity to contribute to the success of the team through their unique individual skills, and they get opportunities to demonstrate that," DeMarco said.
"It's a tremendous program. I really hope that you make time in your schedules this spring to come out and see a game. It will be something that you've probably never witnessed before. Probably one of the amazing things is when you walk into the gym and a basket is scored, you have no idea who the home team is."