External Audit Commends Garrison School Board Budgeting

Board to hold public workshop to revise board goals

By Jeanne Tao

At the Garrison Union Free School (GUFS) Board of Education (BOE) meeting on Wednesday (Sept. 19), a group from the firm O’Connor Davies, LLP presented the results of their independent audit of the financial statements of the district for the financial year ending June 30.

Their report included a clean opinion of the district’s accounting practices. When asked by the board for a general characterization of the district’s management of funds, the presenters stated that the district budgeted conservatively and soundly, ending the year with a small surplus of $27,194.

The auditors explained that this is often difficult for school districts to do, because many expenditures, such as employee health insurance and pension rates, are beyond their control. Because of large increases in both of these rates in the last year, for instance, they said the board did a good job of staying within their budget.

Before they left, School Board President Raymond O’Rourke thanked the auditors, and they also thanked the district’s staff members for being helpful and professional throughout the audit. During board-member comments at the end of the meeting, several members commended the board for their sound budgeting, and Superintendent Gloria Colucci thanked the school business administrator, Susan Huetter, for her hard work.

Revision of BOE goals

The superintendent reminded the board that their long-term goals (2009-2012) have expired with the last school year, and that they should now consider what approach to take to identify new goals. Board members expressed interest in having feedback from the community in a public workshop on the goals.

Board Member Theresa Orlandi pointed out that there are many new, young families in the district, and that they should be able to participate in determining the goals. Colucci added that Principal Stephanie Impellittiere had indeed noted addressing many new faces at Back-to-School nights during the opening of the school year, and that teachers as well as parents should be included in the process.

Impellittiere added that the goals should be aligned with new state requirements as well, since the faculty have a great deal to think about now with the new teacher evaluation system (APPR) and the Common Core standards. She said that the faculty should also be applauded for the great start to the school year.

O’Rourke requested that board members review the previous goals and bring up questions or concerns about them to the superintendent. At the next board meeting, they will discuss these concerns as well as set a date for the workshop. The long-term goals can be viewed at the district website, gufs.org, in the Board of Education links.

Summary of grants awarded

Colucci presented a report on federal grants given to the district since the academic year 2006-2007, noting that the funds have decreased over time, especially as some are no longer available. The largest amounts from grants received are allocated for special education.

Board Member Anita Prentice asked about the increase in the number of Title I students, or those living in poverty, who receive funds for academic support. Colucci indicated that census figures show that the number of students living in poverty in the district has increased to 22, which therefore increased Title I funds a bit. Many felt that this reflected the current state of the economy.

The board discussed alternative pathways to obtain funding, with Board Member James Cannon wondering whether someone should be hired to find and apply for more grants, especially since administration is already so busy with other work. Colucci explained that most districts that do employ such consultants are often districts that qualify for many more grants, due to high poverty, than GUFS does.

Alternatives could be explored, she added, especially if they considered partnering with another district that would attract more corporate donors looking to help higher-need schools. Prentice mentioned the idea of accepting tuition-paying students, and Orlandi gave the example of some districts that actively recruit international students, often from China, to collect tuition. The board agreed that such difficult fiscal times call for more creativity in coming up with funding.

Good start, thanks to teachers

Many members of the board remarked on the great start to the school year. Member Charlotte Rowe commented on the empowerment that parents and the PTA feel in organizing and raising funds for the school, thanking the teachers for their work and professionalism in arriving at a new contract, and marveling at the excitement her children display every morning as they race down to the bus for another day at school.

Prentice echoed Rowe’s comments and expressed her support for teachers in Chicago returning to school that day after going on strike.  She said the teachers were “trying to achieve many of the same things that we have here,” in the Garrison School, including guidance counselors in every school and less standardized testing. It made her feel grateful for the school, because “there’s not much distance from things on the table in Chicago as things that are discussed here.”

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