Garrison School Board Approves Tax Levy, Gets Update on Superintendent Search

Testing results synopsis given

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

Returning from a summer break a week before students, the Garrison Union Free School Board of Education last week got an overview of enrollment levels, the search for a new superintendent, and testing results, and formally approved a tax levy of more than $8.8 million.

At the Aug. 28 session, Superintendent Gloria Colucci, who in July revealed retirement plans, announced a student population of 264 and gave grade-by-grade numbers for the 2013-14 academic year:

  • Kindergarten: 29
  • 1st Grade: 18
  • 2nd Grade: 30
  • 3rd Grade: 27
  • 4th Grade: 20
  • 5th Grade: 25
  • 6th Grade: 38
  • 7th Grade: 17
  • 8th Grade: 30

School opens Wednesday (Sept. 4), takes a day off for Rosh Hashanah on Thursday (Sept. 5), and resumes Friday (Sept. 6).

Although GUFS lost 20 students from 2012-13, 30 new students signed up, for a net increase of 10. “We had a burst of enrollment,” including a set of triplets, the superintendent said. GUFS does not have a high school.

The Pledge of Allegiance heads the agenda at the GUFS meeting, with Superintendent Gloria Colucci, center left, and Board President Raymond O'Rourke, center right, joining in, alongside Board Member Theresa Orlandi, left, and a young flag-bearer. Photo by L.S. Armstrong

The Pledge of Allegiance heads the agenda at the GUFS meeting, with Superintendent Gloria Colucci, center left, and Board President Raymond O’Rourke, center right, joining in, alongside Board Member Theresa Orlandi, left, and a young flag-bearer. Photo by L.S. Armstrong

Two teachers join the faculty, and the openings generated a spate of applications – 1,189 for one position, and 1,200 for the other, Colucci told the board.

She provided a preliminary synopsis of Common Core curriculum test results. “All overall scores are lower for all districts in the state, including Garrison,” Colucci reported. “The tests were much more difficult” and the results do not mean students are learning less or slacking off in performance, she said, citing a state authority.

“We will be looking more closely” to determine where more attention is advisable, while also analyzing where things went well, she added, promising a full report after school officials thoroughly go over the data.

Tax levy

With little ado, the board unanimously confirmed the tax warrant – or public tax bill – of $8,831,570. Of that amount, $7,958,384 will be gathered in Philipstown and $423,186 in Putnam Valley. (School districts often extend across town borders.) In May, voters approved a total budget $9,752,778 for 2013-14. Other funding sources make up the difference.

Superintendent search

Board President Raymond O’Rourke outlined the process for selecting a new superintendent. He said officials from the Putnam-Northern Westchester Counties Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) will handle basic logistics but that the board anticipates substantial public involvement. According to O’Rourke, the board is “developing a transparent and very inclusive process” and intends to establish an ad hoc advisory committee of teachers, parents, and community members to address the question of “what are we looking for.”

Predicting that the number of parents wishing to serve would exceed the number of slots, he said GUFS would probably use a random method to fill the committee.


Asked if the board regarded the departure of a superintendent as an opportunity to consider consolidation, O’Rourke answered on two levels – district consolidation and sharing of a superintendent. When it comes to consolidating school districts, “we’ve never ruled it out,” O’Rourke said. “But we’ve always said, I think, that you’d have to demonstrate, and the case would have to be made convincingly, that consolidation would work for the students, families, and the taxpayers of both the consolidated districts. And we have yet to see the case where a consolidation with Garrison and any other districts would meet those threshold tests.”

GUFS district property owners pay lower school taxes than those in adjacent districts. They will pay at a rate of $19.4 per $1,000 of assessed value this year. During the 2012-13 school year, their rate was $19 but for residents of the Haldane Central School District it was $33 and for the Putnam Valley Central School District it was $25.17.

O’Rourke also foresaw problems in hiring one person to run more than one district. (Haldane likewise needs a new superintendent, with Mark Villanti retiring there.) “It’s very difficult to consolidate the superintendent positions of two otherwise independent school districts and still get the level of service and attention a single, devoted superintendent would provide either of the two districts,” he said.

On Aug. 30, he elaborated in an email, terming the idea of sharing superintendents “a solution in search of a problem,” from a GUFS perspective, given the record. “By any relevant measure, we continue to produce top-tier educational outcomes at less than half the median school tax rate of other districts in Westchester, Putnam and Rockland counties, even with a full-time superintendent,” O’Rourke said. “It’s hard to see why we would want to change the administrative model that’s helped produce such results.”

He also suggested that in sharing a superintendent with Haldane, three times as large, or Putnam Valley, six times bigger, Garrison would get short shrift. “That simply would not work for our students and community.”  Overall, he said, GUFS officials “looked at the question very carefully and concluded that Garrison is best served – as it has been – with its own superintendent. This is a more-than-full-time job, done without the staffs of assistant administrators employed in larger districts.”

Moreover, he said, sharing a superintendent likely “would also involve creating one or more positions at the assistant superintendent level, which would negate most, if not all, the potential savings coming out of a possible combination.”

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