Trustees Approve Tax Levy Resolution

Villanti cautions parents on Common Core tests

By Michael Turton

At a Haldane School Board meeting Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 13, School Board trustees approved a resolution confirming tax rolls and authorizing the tax levy for the 2013-14 school year with $17,369,969 to be raised through taxes in Philipstown. Putnam Valley tax payers will contribute $455,148 and Fishkill residents will be taxed $257,325. Total spending of $22,345,120 was approved by voters in a May referendum. The budget will result in a 3.55 percent increase in the tax levy in Philipstown with the final budget falling within the spending cap imposed by New York State.

Superintendent of Schools Mark Villanti advised parents to take test scores coming out of the new Common Core curriculum, “…with a grain of salt.” He said that some parents may be  surprised by scores that appear to be low. Forty-one to 72.9 percent of Haldane students in grades three through eight achieved scores at the “proficiency” level in the new assessment system. “The average was 30-31 percent statewide for proficiency,” Villanti said in an email to The Paper. “If you compare Haldane’s scores to other NYS scores we are at 90 percent compared to other districts.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, Trustee Evan Schwartz dismissed the first set of test results. “I’ll look at the  test results then throw them in the garbage,” he said. “I’m for the Common Core … but this is their attempt to hit rock bottom.” Schwartz  said that as test scores improve over time, “Everyone looks like geniuses.” He was critical of the length of the tests saying, “A lot of  kids didn’t finish the exam.” Villanti said that the law board exam taken by his nephew recently took less time than the tests completed by fourth grade students as part of Common Core assessment.

Tour of projects

Seamus Carroll led a tour of the revamped auditorium and projection room. Photo by M. Turton

Seamus Carroll led a tour of the revamped auditorium and projection room.

Prior to the start of the business meeting, Villanti led a tour of the ongoing capital project to upgrade the main athletic field, auditorium and locker rooms. He reported that all phases of the $2 million project are on schedule, and possibly “a little under budget.” Grading of the playing field just off of Route 9D is undergoing near-final laser leveling and expectations are that the artificial turf field will be ready for soccer games in early September.

“This isn’t just about  Haldane,” Villanti said, stressing that the community will also benefit from use of the new field. “Youth soccer, lacrosse … seniors’ fitness … I  think this will be a real center for the community.” He said the field will be the center of activity at Haldane’s Homecoming on the first weekend in October.

Haldane junior Wylie McDonald in the auditorium's newly revamped digital projection room. Photo by M. Turton

Haldane junior Wylie McDonald in the auditorium’s newly revamped digital projection room.

Seamus Carroll helped guide improvements to the auditorium and was on hand to show off the new facilities as part of the tour. “This is a major step forward for the school,” he said. Carroll said that the auditorium, built in the 1930s, has been brought up to modern standards – including  digital projection and sound and improved acoustics.

New stage curtains have also been added that can be employed in dozens of configurations. A program highlighting the new facilities will also be a part of Homecoming weekend. The tour included the locker rooms which are also  undergoing a complete revamping. The new lockers will be installed the first week in September.

Mascot objection

Catherine Garnsey, a resident who introduced herself as director of Religious Education at Our Lady of Loretto Catholic Church in Cold Spring, raised objections to Haldane school’s use of the Blue Devil as its mascot. Garnsey submitted a letter to the Haldane Board of Education. “This offends me as a citizen and as a godmother,” she said.

Villanti responded that the mascot has been used for many years and that his understanding is that its origin lies with a French brigade in the first World War known for its courage in battle – and that a number of schools adopted the Blue Devil as a mascot for that reason. Trustee Jon Champlin said that his father, a teacher at Haldane for many years, said that Haldane’s mascot was established prior to World War II.

Catherine Garnsey objects to the use of a Blue Devil as Haldane's mascot. Photo by M. Turton

Catherine Garnsey objects to the use of a Blue Devil as Haldane’s mascot.
Photo by M. Turton

“My point is, how attached are we?” Garnsey asked. “Perhaps we could ask parents or propose a change to the mascot.” Later she added, “The devil is a biblical figure – not secular. I’m sure everyone here agrees.”

When Garnsey’s letter was received as part of correspondence, Villanti said he wondered if athletes and alumni would object to a name change. Later in the meeting he added, “There does seem to be an attachment” to it.

Garnsey concluded her remarks saying, “I am a godmother. I have an innocent child I am entrusting to this school.”

“You are the first person to raise an objection,” Villanti said, adding that the public “should feel free to comment.”

Duke University also uses a Blue Devil as its mascot. According to that school’s website, “During World War I … ‘les Diables Bleus’ were well-known French soldiers … who won accolades for their courage.” The website notes that Irving Berlin captured the brigade’s spirit in a song, describing them as “strong and active . . . those Devils, the Blue Devils of France.”

Students propose a working senior trip

Haldane’s Class of 2014 senior trip will have a very different feel to it if student leadership has its way. Student Council President Aidan Gallagher and Senior Class President Shauna Ricketts presented a proposal that would see seniors travel to New Orleans to spend two days working on Habitat for Humanity projects.

Shauna Ricketts and Aidan Gallagher want Habitat for Humanity to be part of their proposed senior trip. Photo by M. Turton

Shauna Ricketts and Aidan Gallagher want Habitat for Humanity to be part of their proposed senior trip.

In explaining why New Orleans was selected, Gallagher said that although some 400 homes there have been renovated through Habitat for Humanity, the city is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina – the devastating storm that struck the Gulf Coast eight years ago. “We’re looking to reach outside our community to help others in need,” he said.

Ricketts learned how Habitat for Humanity can be, “a life changing experience” when she worked on a project in Newburgh this summer. Villanti praised student leaders. “Leadership has done a lot of work,” he said. “This is not just a ‘let’s go somewhere’ trip.”

Trustees will formally consider the proposal at their September meeting. The cost of the trip per student is estimated at $919. A number of fundraising activities are being planned to help reduce that amount. Ricketts said that 77 percent of the senior students expressed interest in the trip. Previous trips have included roughly 50 of 70 senior students. The proposed trip would include two days working with Habitat for Humanity and two days touring the New Orleans area.

Superintendent search

School Board President Gillian Thorpe said that she will meet with representatives of the Garrison Union Free School District to discuss the two organizations’ search for new  superintendents. In light of recent retirement announcements by Haldane Superintendent Mark Villanti and Garrison Superintendent Gloria Colucci, New York State Assemblywoman Sandy Galef had written to both school districts, encouraging them to consider merging.

In speaking with The Paper, Thorpe said that while there will be a discussion of Galef’s letter, merger is not in the offing. She said the two districts are pursuing separate superintendent searches, Garrison using BOCES’ services and Haldane opting to use a private search firm.

Photos by M. Turton

7 thoughts on “Trustees Approve Tax Levy Resolution

  1. Many thousands of students and their families have been associated with Haldane for many years and in all my years of association with HCS, this is only the second objection to the use of Blue Devils with which I am familiar. Both on religious grounds!

    Haldane is not a religious institution. If these popular mascots offend someone, let her take her ward from the public institution and send them to a religious facility. Why should I or,any other taxpayer be led around by one person’s religious (not mine) beliefs?

    It will be a travesty if this school administration rolls over for one person’s personal beliefs without consulting the community as a whole, as with the spending budget.

  2. There is a Catholic school in Fishkill for Mrs. Garnsey’s children or godchildren to attend. It is amazing what people will object to on religious grounds. Everything becomes evil. The Blue Devil Mascot is just that, a mascot, not an evil religious biblical mascot. Mrs. Garnsey has the right to teach her godchild whatever she thinks is right. We will all teach our children whatever we think is right. If we need help we will ask for it.

  3. When I first heard of this issue, I was very bothered that anyone would want to move away from the Blue Devil Mascot that has been a part of our school and community for many, many years. I started researching the Haldane Blue Devil and found reference to the blue devils in a 1941 newspaper article. I also started looking at yearbooks from previous years and found the blue devil on the cover of the 1953 Haldanian. When reviewing the 1990 Haldanian, I found the following poem. I really do not see a need to change something that has been with our school and community for over 70 years.


    Our hearts and souls hold a devil inside,
    Not a devil of hate, but a devil of love,
    A blue devil that keeps our spirit alive.
    He has created a bond that unites us as one.
    We’ll sing his song for years to come.

    Keep him within your heart and soul,
    Not only today, but tomorrow and always,
    Remember him well, for he’s part of
    Our town,
    Our friends,
    Our learning experiences,
    Our activities.

    Soon we will leave to fulfill our dreams.
    No matter where the future takes us,
    There will always be in each of us,
    A little “Blue Devil Inside.”

    Author Unknown

    As a 1965 graduate of Haldane and former cheerleader, I purchased my brick this week in support of the Haldane Blue Devils. GO BLUE DEVILS!!

  4. Leave the blue devil alone. The school has more important things to deal with.

  5. Isn’t this mascot issue becoming a bit of a tempest in a teapot? One person shared her views and concern as she has every right to do.

    Yet, no one mentions the wonderful proposal by Shauna Rickets and Aiden Gallagher to have the senior class make a useful contribution by working with Habitat for Humanity in rebuilding homes in New Orleans. What wonderful teens we have living in our community! I whole-heartedly support their idea and hope that our community will stand behind them and assist in their efforts! It’s heartening to know that our teens are thinking outside of their own world and working to improve the larger one.

    Come on folks, let’s help them fundraise so the seniors can have a great trip to NOLA, improve others’ lives and explore a city that gave birth to so much of our American musical culture.

    Bravo Shauna and Aiden!

  6. Lynn, I do not think this issue of the Haldane mascot has been exaggerated. If I remember correctly, you had some very strong feelings regarding some issues in the village and took a stand against them. You obviously did not think they were exaggerated. They were your feelings and convictions. If one person shared her views as she has a right to do, don’t the rest of us get the same consideration?

    Maybe you do not realize that this may be just the icing on the cake of a long list of things that have been criticized by residents that do not think to ask the origin of or the traditions they want changed. We “old timers” like some of these things the way they are. Meaningful things.

  7. Trustee Schwartz’s comment about the state test scores may sound cynical, but I do not believe he is wrong. The length of time a third grader sits in a seat for just one test has nearly doubled since the yearly tests began after No Child Left Behind made them necessary ten years ago. The answer to better-educated students is not more bad testing, but we are at the mercy of NYSED.