Monday, February 27, 2012

Call to action; community budget forums to begin

Tomorrow, Tuesday, Feb. 28, the Watervliet City School District will begin a series of community forums designed to share information and gather feedback regarding the development of the 2012-13 budget.

In my last post, I discussed the inequitable distribution of state aid and how it hinders the efforts of school districts like Watervliet to provide the same opportunities other students in wealthier districts have. As a new superintendent, I promised my fight had only begun.  

By attending Tuesday’s forum, you too can join the fight by learning all you can about our budget and asking questions – of both the school district and our elected lawmakers in Albany.

I truly believe that public advocacy for equality in education spending is essential as we fight for students and their right to a top-notch education. In the video below, Dr. Rick Timbs, the executive director of the Statewide School Financial Consortium, urges all school district stakeholders to speak with one voice seeking equity.

I urge you to watch the video and attend at least one of our upcoming forums. Tuesday’s meeting begins at 6 p.m. in the Watervliet Junior Senior High School Administrative Conference Room.

Other opportunities to learn about the budget include a Budget and Breakfast Forum scheduled for this Saturday, March 3. There, residents can learn about the 2012-13 budget, share ideas and enjoy a light breakfast prepared by Mr. Gaddy’s gourmet food and nutrition class at the high school. The breakfast forum begins at 10 a.m. in the high school cafeteria.

Also, on March 14 at 6:30 p.m. the Watervliet Elementary School PTA and UPK are sponsoring a 2012-13 Budget Q & A in the elementary school cafeteria. The Q and A will begin with an overview of the state's Property Tax Levy Cap presented by Shelly Levings, director of state aid and financial planning for Questar III BOCES.

These public budget forums are just one way you can help. Recently our board of education members and the Watervliet Teachers’ Association began a letter writing campaign to our elected representatives in Albany. Hundreds of letters have been collected already. You can download a sample letter here to mail to your representative.

Senator Neil Breslin
Albany Office
172 State St.
Room 413, Capitol
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-2225

Assemblyman Ronald Canestrari
Albany Office
LOB 926
Albany, NY 12248

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Leading in Times of Scarce Resources and High Accountability as a New Superintendent

As I reflect upon my first three short weeks as Superintendent of Schools in the Watervliet City School District, the first thing that comes to mind is that not all communities are created equally!  I am quickly discovering the real inequalities plaguing education. As a building principal in the Watervliet Jr/Sr High School for the past seven years, I was visible, held students, staff, teachers, administrators and myself accountable for student achievement. 

None of that has changed. What has changed is the realization of having to do more with less. The fiscal crisis facing small city, urban school districts today, with the new property tax levy cap, increasing unfunded mandates, and the increased level of accountability for teachers and administrators is daunting. While I am doing all that I can to remain fiscally responsible to our tax payers of the city of Watervliet, and provide our students with a rigorous and relevant education that they are entitled to, while ensuring it is being delivered by highly qualified teachers, “tightening our belts,” is an understatement.  The inequitable distribution of state aid to needy schools is a puzzle I cannot seem to put together. I do not understand the justification of holding and/or cutting funds to schools that are already “in need.”  Money does not buy an education, however if something is a mandate that costs money, and a district greatly depends on state aid to fund mandates, when the money is not appropriated, how does a school district meet an unfunded mandate?  I am uncertain if I do not know the answer to that question because I am still green, or is it rhetorical?  The lack of state aid to low income school districts will only perpetuate the ever growing achievement gap between the schools that “have” and the schools that “have not.”

It saddens me that students in needier districts may not be afforded the same educational opportunities students from more affluent districts are, simply because of their zip code. I find it difficult to look into the eyes of students who are in advanced placement classes or college in the high school courses, knowing that next year, and years to follow, there is a strong possibility we will not have the funds to offer these accelerated programs. It is concerning to me that this community may be divided over students with special needs receiving costly services they are entitled to due to mandates, while mainstream students are denied people and programs because cuts have to come from somewhere, and the reality is, there is no money flowing from anywhere. Highly qualified teachers, some of which are Nationally Board Certified teachers, administrators and support staff who have “fire in their belly” and a passion for teaching and learning, stand to lose their jobs because now that we have cut away all of the fat…this leaves nothing to abolish but people and programs.

I am honored to lead the Watervliet City School District, even in these tough economic times, and I take my responsibilities extremely seriously.  I believe it is my duty to ensure every child in this district has the same opportunities other students in wealthier districts have. I will exhaust all possibilities and opportunities to help level the playing field and fight for the students in this district to be afforded a top-notch education, complete w/ 21st century technology that will prepare them with the skills they need to be college and career ready. My fight has only just begun!