By Michael Turton
In early July while students still savored the earliest days of their summer vacation, elected officials and senior administration of the Haldane Central School District met to continue planning for the next school year. The reorganization meeting is an annual tradition that may not make for dramatic headlines, but offers hints of what parents and taxpayers can expect in the months ahead.
The meeting saw the reelection of Dave Merandy as school board president. Joe Curto was elected vice president. Gillian Thorpe, elected as a new trustee in last spring’s election, was officially sworn into office along with Michael Junjulas who had won reelection. Curto downplayed his appointment but did not downplay the challenges that the District faces. “Titles aren’t important but what is going to be extremely important this year is having the entire community work together to make the district function at its highest level. The dysfunction in Albany is getting dangerous from a school funding perspective; federal stimulus funding is set to expire and this is also a year for multiple contract negotiations. Throw in an energy performance contract, the Highland Valley project “¦and the school board and its partners will need to be proactive and well prepared” Curto said.
Highland Valley is the 210 unit mobile home development proposed for Route 9 just north of the Philipstown boundary in the Town of Fishkill. This project could result in an influx of new students to Haldane, which in turn would dramatically affect the district budget and tax rate. Superintendent Mark Villanti told Philipstown.info that, after meeting with a coalition of officials from the school board, Town of Philipstown and Hudson Highland Land Trust, the developer put the project on hold. “He was responsive to our concerns” Villanti said. Attorneys for the school district and the developer are now negotiating project details. “I feel optimistic about an agreement, but it will take ongoing negotiations to ensure that the agreement is legally binding” Villanti said. In addition to the cost of increased student enrollment, residents and local officials have expressed strong concerns over the environmental impact of the project, including its effect on the Clove Creek aquifer.
Trustees approved tuition contracts with the Garrison School District and St. Basil Academy for their students who attend Haldane High School. Villanti said that the number of Garrison students choosing to attend Haldane has increased considerably over the past few years. “We used to have about six to eight Garrison kids in each grade” Villanti said, “but now it’s in the seventeen to twenty range per grade.” Garrison students can attend high school privately or at Haldane or James O’Neill in Highland Falls. Only four or five student’s from St. Basil will attend Haldane this fall. Haldane will receive $12,600 in tuition for each Garrison and St. Basil student. Villanti said that the tuition has helped Haldane hold the line on tax rate increases.
Haldane School Board is making good on its promise to make its operation more transparent. The board approved a policy that will see all contracts valued at $100,000 or more posted on its website. Included will be agreements with both its unions, senior administration, BOCES, significant vendors and capital projects.
In speaking with Philipstown.info after the reorganization meeting Villanti said that an issue which will likely have a high profile in the months ahead are changes to the State of New York’s standardized testing of students as recently proposed by Education Commissioner David Steiner. Villanti questioned the wisdom of some of the changes. As an example he cited that fact that third grade students will be required to score at least eighty five percent in a three hour, thirty seven question math test in order to be deemed proficient. “I think it’s pretty bizarre that a third grader who scores eighty four percent will not be considered proficient” Villanti said. He also questioned the appropriateness of three hour tests for students in third grade.
Trustees rejected retirement incentives recently proposed by New York State as being too expensive for smaller districts such as Haldane. This was also the decision made by the Garrison school board at their recent reorganizational meeting.