Fiscal-cliff decision on education cuts delayed
By Jeanne Tao
At the first meeting of the Garrison School Board of Education since the shootings in Newtown, Conn., the board on Wednesday night (Jan. 2) observed a moment of silence to remember those who were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary on Dec. 14. Board members also reflected on the tragedy and discussed safety procedures, as well as attended to the finalization of the board’s goals and objectives and the shaping of the budget amid anticipated education cuts both at the state and federal levels.
In her remarks, Superintendent Gloria Colucci explained that Garrison School has been and remains a locked-in school district, wherein all visitors must be buzzed in, sign in and wear a badge. She attests that the school secretary has been “vigilant and diligent” in identifying all visitors before buzzing them in, speaking to those unfamiliar to her over the intercom before allowing entry. Board Member Christine Foertsch noted that she feels thankful for the district’s size, since administrators and staff are usually familiar with those who come to the school’s door, and she expressed her gratitude for their diligence.
The school’s safety committee, made up of administrators, teachers, parents and the insurance carrier’s representative, met shortly after the shootings and will continue to meet to review the school’s emergency-management plan, which outlines procedures for all possible events, from a chemical spill on the road outside the school to an incident such as occurred in Newtown. The school also practices these procedures in at least two drills per year — one evacuation and one other type — in addition to the 12 fire drills that are required each year.
The superintendent had also attended the Putnam County Sheriff’s Dec. 19 security meeting of school and government leaders following the shootings, where Colucci accepted the offer from the sheriff’s office to conduct a security review at the school. The school’s insurance provider will also conduct a separate security review. Any recommendations made by either review will be brought to the board for approval.
Board Member Charlotte Rowe mentioned being touched by the students’ response to the tragedy, in the Girl Scouts’ efforts to make snowflakes to decorate the school for Sandy Hook students and in their expressions of concern for them.
Fiscal cliff and budget woes
Although Congress decided on Jan. 2 to extend tax cuts for all but the wealthy, the decision on education spending cuts has been delayed until March. This means that school districts will not learn of cuts in federal aid until then. The Garrison School District anticipates cuts in Title I (for students living in poverty) and special education funding (which goes toward salaries of special education teachers), which could total around $100,000. That money will have to be replaced if not provided through federal aid.
At the state level, Colucci reported that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has received a report from his Education Reform Commission, and he is expected to address the commission’s eight recommendations at his State of the State address on Jan. 9. None of those points speak to mandate relief.
Draft board goals
The superintendent presented the draft goals with the changes recommended at the last meeting, Dec. 12. Minor changes were suggested again Wednesday night, which will be reflected in a draft of the goals and objectives to be posted on the school’s website, gufs.org. The board invites public comments on the draft and hopes to approve them at the next meeting on Jan. 16.
Remembering some parents’ comments from prior discussions, Foertsch said that she approved of the draft goals and objectives but wanted to make sure that progress is being made toward the goals with regular reports from administration, possibly every two months.
School Board President Raymond O’Rourke noted that the superintendent’s remarks (as well as those of the board) in the future should be made in reference to the goals whenever possible, instead of demanding another report from the already overtaxed administrators.
Rowe remarked that, despite discussion of opposition to standardized testing and governments’ increased micro-management of school districts, some parents had requested metrics or measurable data on progress toward the goals. While there does need to be some accountability, she said, she was not sure whether monitoring to that extent would be useful. Board Member Diana Swinburne agreed that the board should be careful not to micromanage the school administration.
In response, Colucci said that she would report on any activities that are taking place toward the goals and objectives.
O’Rourke asked Colucci about the progress of the school’s technology review. Colucci said that the consultant had met with focus groups in early December and had held a parent meeting, but because only four parents had shown up, the meeting has been rescheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 23. After collection of data is complete, the consultant will present a report to the board and the school will come up with a plan to improve technology.
The sole parent in attendance, Gerard McCarthy, had the only end-of-meeting public comment: “Where’s all the rest of the rabble-rousers?” He said he was expecting a show, to which the board responded, “You’ve got to make it yourself.”