Garrison School Board Adopts $10.9M Budget

Plus, highlights from earlier meetings

By Lily Gordon

The Garrison School Board adopted a $10.9 million budget for 2018-19 at its April 11 meeting and scheduled a public hearing for Wednesday, May 2, for public comment.

The estimated tax rate per $1,000 assessed value is $20.92 for Philipstown and $9.80 for Putnam Valley, translating to an estimated tax increase of 2.44 percent.

The polls will be open on Tuesday, May 15, for voters to decide on the budget. There are three open school board seats on the ballot, as well, but the incumbents — David Gelber, James Hoch and Raymond O’Rourke — have no challengers for new three-year terms.

The board’s budget proposal includes an increase in spending of $333,000 over 2017-18, or about 3 percent. The majority of the additional costs are due to higher employee health care insurance premiums and special education costs, said Business Administrator Sue Huetter.

Hoch said he hadn’t noticed any major change in the number of students identified as having learning disabilities (Garrison had 23 to 29 special education students in each of the past four years) but rather that “the commitment to serving the entire population has changed,” he said. “That’s a reflection of the effectiveness of the administration.”

In other business …

  • New York state standardized tests for English Language Arts were administered to students in grades 3 to 8 on April 11 and 12. Twenty percent of students opted out, down from 32 percent last year. According to the Empire State Supervisors and Administrators Association, the state plans to count all non-testers above a 5 percent threshold as “non-proficient” in a district’s results. A board member suggested that Principal John Griffiths meet with the parents of non-testers to attempt to persuade them to take the test on a makeup date.
  • Griffiths noted that an invasive species, black swallow-wort, has overrun the South Redoubt, part of the school forest, making access difficult. The board discussed possible solutions, including herbicides.

    Black swallow-wort flowers

  • Krystal Ford, a member of the Philipstown Climate Smart Task Force, asked the board to advocate student participation in activities related to climate change. On April 20, Ford and science teacher Kevin Keegan took 11 middle-school students to a day-long Youth Climate Summit at Columbia University.
  • Sam Smith, an eighth-grader, shared research he had done on geothermal heating systems. He explained potential benefits for the environment and the school district’s bottom line. In early April, Superintendent Laura Mitchell, along with Keegan, Ford, Director of Maintenance Michael Twardy and five students, visited Putnam Valley High School to observe its geothermal HVAC system.
  • The Garrison Children’s Education Fund reported that it is $5,000 short of its $50,000 goal to revamp part of the playground. Representatives of the fund will prepare a proposal for a plaque to recognize donors.
  • The school installed its first filtered water fountain.
  • The board approved a sports merger with the Haldane and Putnam Valley districts for 2018-19, for wrestling.
  • The Hot Lunch Task Force met for first time on April 18 to discuss options for the 2018-19 school year.
  • At its Feb. 14 meeting, the board declined a suggestion from Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell that she visit the district to discuss the county’s participation in a class-action lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies and their distributors over the marketing and distribution of opioid painkillers. Because Odell is running for re-election this year, the board decided it wanted to avoid the impression that it was participating in a political campaign.
  • At the March 14 meeting, representatives from the Putnam-Westchester Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) presented a Student of Distinction Award to Eric Stubblefield, a Garrison student who attends The Walden School.
  • Also on March 14, PTA President Nell Timmer, who has four children at the school, commended the principal and superintendent for their response to concerns and their “measured, thoughtful and supportive” handling of the student-led walkout earlier that day to protest gun violence. She also praised the Teachers College Reading and Writing curriculum and other assessment tools in the elementary grades and suggested that more be done to engage the boys at the school in learning.
  • Six parents spoke on April 11 in support of the work of Mitchell and Griffiths.
  • An anonymous donor gave the district $1,000 to provide financial assistance to students in need for school-related expenses such as lunch or snack money, book money and school supplies. The fund will be called the “Quiet Fund” and is open for further donations. The funds will be dispersed by the superintendent.
  • At the April 24 meeting, the board accepted the resignation of foreign-language teacher Idalia D’Antuono, who is retiring after 19 years with the district. The board also voted to appoint Cathy Lilburne of Garrison and Michael Simpkins of Peekskill to three-year terms on BOCES.
  • Griffiths reported that students are attempting to reduce the amount of trash they produce at lunch; in the first week of the initiative it went from 28 pounds to 19 pounds. The second and third grades alone reduced their trash from 8.75 pounds to 2.5 pounds, he said.

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