Catching Up with the Garrison School Board

Highlights from recent meetings

■ On Oct. 21, the Garrison School board abolished a policy that only allowed it to pay long-term substitute teachers a standard rate of $125 per day until they worked for more than 40 days — a practice that Superintendent Carl Albano said is not competitive because of a high demand for qualified subs. Instead, the board will be able to immediately offer long-term subs the equivalent of a starting teacher’s salary.

■ Tetra Tech Architects & Engineers presented early plans for a capital upgrades approved by voters in September 2019 that will cost up to $9.9 million. According to a schedule provided by the firm, bids will be solicited in March and construction will begin in April and continue through August 2022. About $900,000 in funding will come from district savings, $1 million from state aid and the remainder from a tax levy.

■ On Nov. 4, the board discussed at length the work of its newly created anti-racism and equity task force. Board Member Jocelyn Apicello reported that the task force created a mission statement that says the district is “committed to recognizing, addressing and dismantling racism in all its forms. We are dedicated to creating, fostering and sustaining a safe and inclusive environment in which differences are valued, respected and supported in all areas of school life. We want to produce self-reflective students who experience academic success, who view the world with a critical lens and who are prepared to be responsible and emphatic global citizens.”

She said the task force had identified four priorities: “1. To implement racially inclusive curricula and assessments, 2. To engage all teachers and staff in ongoing professional development, 3. To create a safe environment of dignity, respect, empowerment and inclusivity, and 4. To evaluate the work of the task force and ensure its success and sustain the work over time.”

Apicello said a letter would go out to the community inviting residents to join the task force. [By Dec. 22, the committee had 17 members, including Apicello and Board Members David Gelber and Madeline Julian, six parents, four teachers, the school psychologist, two administrators and a consultant.]

The board discussed the purpose of the task force. Gelber noted that Garrison is a largely white community so that race is “not something that gets discussed a whole lot.” He invited other board members to address why they felt the task force was important.

Julian, the only Black member of the board, responded: “We have a lot of things that are separating us right now in the community [because of COVID], but the one thing that unites us all is that we all care about our students, we care about the district and their education. If we hold on to that, this task force will empower all students to leave our school with a well-rounded view of the world. The focus of the task force is to fill in the gaps —the one thing they are missing is to hear from other people with diverse backgrounds, from different cultures, to have conversations they’re not used to.”

Gelber noted that he has a child who is a student at Haldane High School who heard one classmate make a slur against gay people and other reference “the goddamn Chinese and their Chinese flu.” He commented: “The idea is that this far away from us — it’s not that far away.”

■ At the Nov. 18 board meeting, Albano said he had discovered, during a review of school policies, that the district had not been collecting from employees whose spouses earn above a certain threshold health-insurance premium add-ons charged to the district. He recommended the district not pursue reimbursement, which he later said totaled $85,812 between 2012 and 2020. Sarah Tormey, president of the board, responded that “after consulting with counsel, the board accepts your recommendation.”

Albano said in a later interview that while the loss was “a bit embarrassing for the district, it’s an unusual provision” in the policy, which the school obtains through a consortium with other districts in Putnam and Westchester counties. “It was a mistake on the district’s end, and the board decided not to go back and start deducting past owed money,” he said. “We didn’t think that was fair to do. We have two [insurance] contracts up at the end of year, so we’ll take a closer look at health benefits.” Whether the district collects the add-on in the future “should be negotiated,” he said.

■ The board on Dec. 10 approved a four-year contract with Joseph Jimick as the district business administrator and tax collector, effective Feb. 1. Jimick, who will earn $150,000 annually, succeeds Susan Huetter, who will retire Jan. 1 after 13 years with Garrison. Albano will serve as the interim administrator in January. Huetter also retired as the internal claims auditor for Haldane.

In addition, the board hired Genevieve Mulhare as district treasurer, a new position, at an annual salary of $85,000, while eliminating an office assistant job. Albano said the changes will add $40,000 to $50,000 in payroll but that the district has been advised by auditors that while Huetter handled both duties, treasurer functions should ideally be separate from business administration.

■ The board appointed Scott Kaufman as the part-time, interim director of technology through June 30 for $500 per day to oversee remote-learning and provide training for teachers, as well as upgrade the district website.

■ On Dec. 16, the board approved a $5,000 bonus for school nurse Melissa DeFonce, who was “required and accepted many extra responsibilities related to the COVID-19 pandemic” in the spring and fall. An agreement with the Garrison Teachers Association noted that the payment “shall not set a precedent for any future payments for ‘extra’ work” by its members.

■ Albano asked the board on Dec. 16 for approval to give a required 10-day notice to Orange County Transportation, which provides buses for the district, that it will not need its services in January. He noted the district spends about $65,000 per month on transportation for students and that giving notice will allow the district to cancel buses without cost should it need to go all-virtual for part or all of January.

[This week, Albano said in-person instruction would resume on Jan. 4. In the meantime, “we will continue to closely monitor” infection rates and hospital capacity, “as well as the anticipated post-holiday season spread,” he wrote in a community email.]

■ Rotting drainage pipes beneath the gym in December caused a backup in middle school bathrooms that will require about $20,000 to repair.

■ On Dec. 16, Huetter noted that the district is operating on a tight budget. “We’re spending a lot of money with everything, but mostly COVID-related entries,” she said. “It goes beyond cleaning supplies. There are so many unplanned expenses.”

■ Although the board met four times in person with masks and social distancing in place in the school gym, on Nov. 4 it returned to virtual meetings. Its next meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Wednesday (Jan. 6) via Zoom.

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