Draft budget spending increase will have to be trimmed

By Michael Turton

When Brent Harrington, principal of Haldane elementary and middle schools, addressed school board trustees at their Tuesday (Dec. 18) meeting, these were his opening remarks: “My report is really about the ordinary. Yesterday was an unremarkable day for our students. That was what we aimed for.”

Harrington was referring to how Haldane’s teachers and administration handled the aftermath of the killings that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., last Friday. In a letter to families, he explained that he and his staff decided not to draw more attention to the incident by observing a moment of silence on Monday morning.

“Many parents, including myself, consciously chose not to share the events of Friday with our young children. As a result, a moment of silence would raise questions from students and potentially create unnecessary anxiety,” he wrote in the letter.

A moment of silence was observed at the high school. “Students are struggling to process what happened,” Principal Brian Alm said. “It’s hard to make sense of it.” Alm said that many teachers used the moment of silence to introduce a discussion about the shootings. Throughout Monday, teachers, administration and support staff worked to make the day as normal as possible. “There is nothing more comforting than routine,” Alm said.

In the high school lobby, students created a large card and are collecting signatures before sending it to Sandy Hook School.

In his report, Superintendent of Schools Mark Villanti said of the school killings, “This is a game changer. Violence is so rare in our school, we’ve been more casual. There are some things we’re looking at tightening up.”

Harrington included some of the specific security precautions being taken in his letter to parents. Entrance doors will now be locked at 9 a.m., and teachers are now required to lock classroom doors. Monitoring of visitors to the school is being revised and increased. Some parents had inquired where students would be evacuated to in the event of an emergency, but Harrington declined to answer specifically. “Sharing the evacuation location would jeopardize … safety. However, this plan has been reviewed with staff,” he said in his letter.

Villanti said that he has received suggestions from parents regarding security and related issues. A safety committee meeting had been scheduled prior to Friday’s shootings, but he said administration wouldn’t wait and is moving forward with new procedures. He also encouraged the community to be involved. “Please, if you have any thoughts, share your ideas,” he said.

First budget draft presented

Villanti presented the first draft of a 2013-14 budget, one that has been described as the toughest financial challenge trustees and administration have ever faced. The draft includes total spending of $22,618,110 — a 3.15 percent increase over last year. That spending will have to be trimmed in order to stay within the tax cap imposed by New York state. Villanti estimates that about $350,000 in spending will have to be eliminated to meet that target — unless additional revenue can be found, which seems highly unlikely.

He continued to hammer the state government over reduced aid to schools and presented a slide showing that over the past four years, aid to Haldane as result of the “Gap Elimination Adjustment” has declined by a total of $1,659,553. During that same period, “Foundation Aid” for operations has increased by only $9,066. Villanti was again critical of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s assertion that state aid to schools has increased by 4 percent, saying that the figure actually varies greatly from district to district.

“I want the public to have the facts. It’s [The 4 percent is] a confusing number,” Villanti said. “Four percent in state aid is a fiction. I hate to say it, but I think it’s spin politics.” He said that Haldane has seen no increase but has experienced a net loss in state aid.

New York State Assemblywoman Sandy Galef and newly elected State Senator Terry Gipson will attend a Haldane School Board budget workshop scheduled for Jan. 15. The Haldane PTA is spearheading a letter-writing campaign aimed at making Cuomo more aware of how reductions in state aid are affecting the school.

‘It’s not about the technology’

Alm presented a detailed review of Haldane’s use of digital devices as teaching tools. The high school purchased a number iPads two years ago and has been using them on a trial basis in class — along with strategic student use of cellphones for project-oriented work. Alm stressed that the key is not the technological devices themselves but rather their ability to enhance teaching and learning.

His other major theme was that significant shifts in teaching and learning are now taking place. In the “new learning ecology,” teaching is becoming much more individualized with students learning at their own pace and ability levels. He said that in the past, it has been a cliché that “students enter high school curious — and we school it out of them.” The shifts in teaching emphasize a nurturing of that curiosity along with creativity and critical thinking.

On Monday, trustees sat in on a senior class in government and economics that incorporated student use of iPads and their cellphones. After watching a very brief video, students were asked to respond to a question about it that required critical thought. They then used their cellphones to anonymously text in their answers, which were immediately projected onto a screen at the front of the room.

Trustees were impressed with what they saw. “We’re absolutely heading in the right direction,” said Trustee Peter Henderson. “I have no question in my mind that what we saw will be (expanded) many times over.”

Other business

Villanti reported that he will meet soon with local real-estate representatives regarding the sale of the 10.6-acre James Pond property. He has already received an inquiry from one potential buyer. Funds from the land sale will be used to help pay for improvements to the main sports field, the auditorium and new lockers.

Trustee Jon Champlin, who co-chairs PLAY Haldane, the organization raising funds for the athletic field project, reported that cash-in-hand and pledges now total $57,000. The organization’s goal is to raise $100,00 towards the project. He also said that the group has three or four grant applications pending, and that if they are successful, they will be very close to achieving their financial goal.

Trustees approved the appointment of Tom Campanile to the auditing committee. Peter Henderson chairs the committee. Other members are trustee Evan Schwartz and Roman Danilov. One position remains open, and residents interested in serving are asked to submit a letter to the district outlining their qualifications.

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Turton, who has been a reporter for The Current since its founding in 2010, moved to Philipstown from his native Ontario in 1998. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Area of expertise: Cold Spring government, features

7 replies on “Haldane Copes With Newtown Shootings”

  1. When I was a very young man, ancient cities fascinated me. Perhaps the most mysterious lost city of all time is the vast, dusty ruins of Mohenjo-daro in what is now Pakistan. I decided, as young men will, to hitchhike there from Rome. The route took me across Afghanistan and through the Kabul Gorge and the Khyber Pass. Much of this border, even then – this was the early 1970s – was lawless.

    Everyone was armed to the teeth – even children carried weapons, ancient guns taller than themselves. The passage through that border area took about five harrowing hours and taught me an indelible lesson: Guns and civilization don’t mix.

    Many in this country argue that the way to prevent the slaughter of innocent children is to arm the school principals, arm the teachers, and arm the older children. They are, in my humble opinion, simply missing the point: the vast majority of people in this country don’t want to live that way. We don’t want to visit places bristling with guns, and we don’t want to make our homes and schools places that are bristling with guns. A society that relies on firearms for safety is an uncivil society.

    Propaganda from the National Rifle Association has been effective in persuading people that somehow we would be safer if we were all armed. But think: If even madmen can buy guns at gun shows without background checks, if assault weapons are easily obtained by disturbed teenagers and the mentally ill, if in the confusion of an incident the wrong person is likely to be shot, where is the safety?

    We are the custodians of our civilization. The deepest law of our being, perhaps hardwired into our very genes, is to protect the children, to keep the peace. We have failed.

    I never did reach Mohenjo-daro. But that doesn’t matter, since I did not have to be there to learn its most important lesson: Civilizations, too, can fail.

  2. Michael the tragedy in Newtown is the saddest event to happen in schools for sometime. It is not a time to say “A society that relies on firearms for safety is an uncivil society.” Reports from Great Britain and Australia show alarming differences from what people in this country believe is the answer. I refer you to this article in the Wall Street Journal.

    1. Twenty dead children cry out from their graves that each one of us have the courage to exercise serious reasoning about America’s gun problem, to seek and cite real statistics in support of our claims, and not point lamely to sham arguments that lean on anecdotal evidence, as in the Wall Street Journal article you cite. Those in positions of authority and responsibility within our community, especially, have a high moral obligation to try to square their reasoning with the facts. If not now, when?

  3. I strongly disagree with Mr. Junjulas’ “now is not the time” statement. This is a classic defense used by the gun industry backed NRA and the Murdoch-owned Fox News and Wall Street Journal. When is the time? When the last victim is buried? When the story falls off the front page and our attention strays? The time is now! Whether it is too late, I can not say, but the time is now!

  4. The WSJ piece is a sad example of journalism, relying on anecdote when it should cite statistics. In 2009 the US recorded 10.2 deaths by firearms for every 100,000 people, whereas the U.K. recorded .25 per the same 100,000 people.

    As Nate Silver demonstrated so well in the recent election, statistical data and math matters. For months leading up to November, Fox News had Karl Rove and MSNBC had Joe Scarborough spouting anecdotal data and pretending it was math, and that their opinions carried the same weight as the actual number crunching done by Silver. As we all learned, Silver was right and they were wrong.

    Mr. Junjulas would do well to look beyond a couple of horrible murder stories in the WSJ and look at the overwhelming statistical hard evidence which proves the U.S., Mexico, Columbia, South Africa and other nations with lax gun-control laws are consistently nations with far greater percentages of their populations being killed by guns.

    Meanwhile, Mr. Fitzgerald is absolutely correct: now is precisely the time to take serious action to curtail the use of automatic, high-round weapons in our country. The Bushmaster and the Glock are not needed to hunt deer. These horrific murders, one after the other, must stop.

  5. I thought this article was very interesting detailing the influence the NRA has been exerting over the Republican Party. Written by a Pulitzer Prize winning author, it shows how they use their “scoring” to scare politicians into voting their way. It looks like things have really gotten out of hand.

  6. What’s amazing is that it is easier to argue and take sides rather than sit and discuss the problem and a solution if there is one. The reality is nothing will be done, again. I doubt the kids know the NRA, the Wall Street Journal, what goes on in the U.K. or any other controversial garbage. But adults acting like children does not help the children that are supposed to act like children. Sorry for the rant.

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