Faculty says administration should share budget pain
By Michael Turton
Discussions regarding the 2013-14 budget continued at the Tuesday, March 5, meeting of the Haldane School Board, with Director of Facilities Mike Twardy presenting a summary of operations and maintenance costs. It seems the Energy Performance Contract (EPC) that Haldane entered into with ConEd Solutions last year is paying dividends — as expected.
Essentially the contract guarantees that, over time, Haldane will save enough money on energy costs to pay for extensive improvements made to its heating, cooling and electrical systems and other infrastructure. Two major upgrades included new boilers and lighting. Twardy reported that despite the winter of 2012-13 being much colder than last year, the school district will save approximately $20,000 in fuel costs because of the improvements made as part of the EPC. As a result, no cost increase for fuel will be required in the 2013-14 budget.
Twardy also updated trustees on the district’s bus fleet. With one vehicle fit only to sell as scrap and two buses in very poor condition, he recommended that one propane-powered, 66-passenger bus be acquired in 2013-14 at a cost of approximately $107,000. He said that propane is preferred over diesel because of relatively cheaper fuel costs, reduced maintenance and better mileage. While the bus would be acquired next year, payment would not be due until the following year. The School Board would have the option of including the purchase as part of its base budget or making it a separate item to be voted on as part of the budget referendum.
Proposed spending cuts remain at $535,000, the amount required to keep the district within the state-imposed tax cap. Reductions have not been formally adopted yet, but that will have to happen as soon as trustees hone in on final spending done in April in order to meet requirements for a May 21 referendum. School Board President Michael Junjulas advised trustees to “keep your calendars open for March 26” — a meeting at which the spending plan could be made all but final. “We have to give the public time to respond,” he said.
He also said that the effects of the federal “sequester” and the spending cuts it entails probably won’t be known until sometime in mid-April. Superintendent of Schools Mark Villanti said that statewide, cuts to education due to the sequester will total $42.7 million. Haldane receives only a small amount of federal funding because it is considered a wealthy district.
HFA: Admin should tighten its belt
Alison Casey, a special education teacher, spoke briefly on behalf of the Haldane Faculty Association. “I’ve been here 20 years. Ten years ago there were four administrative staff. Currently there are seven full-time staff in administration,” she said. “We keep hearing that cuts are in classroom instruction, support staff and supplies. If we are going to have to sustain cuts — they have to be across the board,” meaning administration should also trim its costs. Villanti responded, “It’s a fair comment,” adding, “As time goes on we’ll have to look at that.”
Ironically, 2 percent salary increases were approved at the meeting for Twardy, Business Manager Anne Dinio and Linda Dearborn, secretary to Villanti. Dinio had declined a pay raise twice in recent years, and earlier this year Villanti also declined a negotiated 2 percent raise in his salary in what he called a “symbolic gesture.”
Trustees have not been overwhelmed with comments from residents regarding proposed cuts. Vice President Gillian Thorpe said that she has heard some concern regarding French — a full-time position is being reduced to a .6 position but with no loss in classroom instruction — along with worries over kindergarten, but that she has not received much in the way of public comment. Laura Danilov, president of the Haldane PTA, said that parents have questions about class size in third grade, which will total 75 students next year. Third grade is when standardized testing begins, a fact that Danilov said causes considerable anxiety among students, making larger class sizes even less desirable.
Villanti squelched rumors that kindergarten might be cut to a half-day program. He said the only issue is whether there will be two or three classes but that it will remain a full-day program. There are currently 49 students registered for kindergarten for next year. That translates to two kindergarten classes, but if the number of students registered increases significantly it would require a third teacher — and added cost to the budget.
Solar power, Internet access, fundraising
At the March 19 meeting, trustees will hear a presentation from Monolith Solar, an engineering, design and installation firm that has worked with other school districts in New York to reduce energy costs by generating electricity using solar panels. Villanti and Junjulas recently toured Schodack Central School District, which saves roughly $14,000 in electricity costs annually through such an arrangement. Monolith pays the cost of the panels, installation and maintenance. The district’s only obligation would be to buy the electricity, which is offered at significantly reduced rates.
Trustee Peter Henderson reported that a favorable response from BOCES to a request for proposals will result in greatly increased Internet bandwidth at the school.
PLAY Haldane, the community fundraising effort to help pay for improvements to the main sports field, auditorium and lockers, keeps moving closer to its goal of $100,000. Trustee Jon Champlin, co-chair of the initiative, reported that cash-in-hand now totals $72,000, thanks to recent contributions from Philipstown Little League and Philipstown Softball. He also announced that Entergy has approved a contribution to the project but that the amount is not yet known.
Thorpe won’t run, two seats now open
Junjulas, who will not seek re-election in May, reminded residents that April 8 is the deadline to file papers at the district office for those intending to run for a seat on the School Board. Thorpe announced at the meeting that she will not seek re-election. “I’ve enjoyed my three years on the board, but there are times when family has to take precedence,” she said.
Coach remembered fondly
A moment of silence was observed at the start of the meeting to remember Lawrence Brigati, who passed away at his home on Saturday, March 2. Junjulas paid tribute to the 84-year-old Brigati, a long-time friend of Haldane. Brigati and his family moved to Cold Spring in 1973. Known simply as “Coach,” he coached the Blue Devils football team for more than 32 years. He also coached basketball and served as a substitute teacher. On Oct. 11, 2008, former players and the Haldane community gathered to honor him by naming the gridiron on Route 9D “Lawrence Brigati Field.” In a gesture that underscored his love of sports and Haldane, Brigati’s family asked that in lieu of flowers donations be made to PLAY Haldane.