Featured News - Current News - Archived News - News Categories
By Alice E. Gerard
The Grand Island Board of Education’s second budget input session, held Monday, focused on budget requests that involved such school district needs as mental health, cybersecurity, instruction for children who need to learn English as a new or second language, and proposed universal prekindergarten contracts with community providers. The Board of Education is also seeking to find a solution to the shortage of school bus drivers.
Substitute Bus Driver Shortage
The Board of Education voted to increase the pay for substitute bus drivers immediately. New bus drivers will now be paid $16 an hour while being trained for their CDL licenses. The number of paid training hours is not to exceed 30 hours. Previously, new drivers were not paid for training hours. In addition, the pay rate for substitute drivers is set to increase from $15 an hour to $19 an hour.
According to Superintendent Dr. Brian Graham, the shortage of bus drivers is worldwide. Increasing bus drive pay, Graham said, will “assist with hiring substitute bus drivers and to retain drivers” after they are hired.
Universal Prekindergarten Slots
The Board of Education voted to approve contracts for four community-based organizations to participate in the universal prekindergarten program.
According to Rubie Harris, assistant superintendent for school business and finance, the school district received funding from New York state for 185 full-time prekindergarten slots, to be funded by state aid. The school district has identified 147 slots and, if there are either more than or fewer than 147 requests from families, the school district will adjust, Harris said.
The following prekindergarten slots will be available for the 2023-24 school year: 36 at Charlotte Sidway Elementary School, 16 at Care-a-Lot Child Care Center, 32 at KinderKiddz, nine at St. Timothy Lutheran Child Care Center and 54 at St. Stephen School.
The school district has proposed hiring a full-time cybersecurity and data protection officer.
According to Robin Kwiatek, director of instructional technology, “Every district is supposed to have a data protection officer. And we do. I hold that title, along with other titles. This position, should you (the Board of Education) approve it, would develop and implement a cybersecurity policy and procedures. It would also conduct regular risk assessments and would train staff and students to monitor and respond to security incidents, collaborate with law enforcement and other organizations, and address cybersecurity threats.”
Graham said the new position was needed because “fending off cyberattacks is a constant battle. A lot of districts have also invested in cyber insurance.”
“Hackers and cybercriminals are becoming more sophisticated and are targeting schools to exploit the vulnerabilities in our systems,” he said. “The attacks are becoming more and more frequent. The main point in having a person in this position is to provide peace of mind to teachers, students, parents and the Board of Education that the sensitive data that we hold is being protected.
“Today’s schools and colleges are increasingly relying on technology to provide students with the education they need. Technology is used for everything from lesson plans to student assessments, and it’s imperative that the systems are secure. Educational institutions are targets for cyber criminals via ransomware and other names. As more technology is used in the schools, they become more vulnerable to cyberattacks. It can range from theft of personal information to disruption of educational activities.”
Youth Mental Health First Aid
Youth Mental Health First Aid “is an early intervention for public education program that teaches the adults how to recognize the signs and symptoms to suggest a potential mental health challenge in students,” said Cheryl Cardone, assistant superintendent of special education and pupil personnel services. “It gives reassurance to the youth, who may be experiencing a mental health challenge, and it refers to the appropriate service that they need.”
The goal is to train the entire staff, including teachers, teachers’ aides, bus drivers, custodians and other staff, over a two-year period.
Cardone said that, to contain the costs of the program, the school district looked at a “train the trainer program.” The plan is for the National Council for Mental Wellbeing to train 10 staff members at the end of June. These staff members include administrators, teachers, pupil personnel staff and a nurse.
“It’s three-day training, so we are up and running in September to start training our faculty and staff,” Cardone said. “We will invest in those three days of training in June. Probably the last week in June, when the kids are not here.”
The cost for the three-day training is approximately $23,000, Cardone said.
English As A New/Second Language
The request is for one additional English as a second language teacher. This would increase the number of ESL teachers to five, which would mean that each school would have its own ESL/ENL teacher, Cardone said. Currently, ENL/ESL teachers are assigned to more than one school. For example, one teacher is assigned to both Huth Road and Kaegebein Elementary schools, while another teacher’s time “is split between the high school and Kaegebein,” Cardone explained.
The number of ENL/ESL students is not growing, but the need for more services is greater, Cardone said. “We have a couple of students who came from Ukraine, who also have special ed needs.”
“Travel time eats into the minutes that they can work with students,” Cardone said.
Schedule for Upcoming Meetings on Budget
The third budget input session is set for 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 27, at Grand Island High School. This will also be the Board of Education’s first opportunity to adopt the budget.
A special meeting on the budget is set for 7:30 p.m. April 11 at the high school. It is expected that meeting will occur after the New York State Legislature adopts the state’s budget for the 2024 fiscal year.
The April 18 meeting is the Board of Education’s final date for adopting the budget for 2023-24. A public hearing on the budget will be held May 8. On May 16, a districtwide vote is scheduled for the budget, as well as an election of trustees.