Friday, March 30, 2012

Difficult choices ahead

I am not usually one to look a gift horse in the mouth—after all receiving an additional $203,624 in restored state aid is certainly better than receiving nothing at all. 

But to be honest, as superintendent of a high needs, small city school district, I had hoped that with the school aid restoration, Watervliet would have received a more equitable allocation. Even with the additional aid, our schools still face a daunting $1.05 million budget shortfall. This shortfall is the result of rising costs and the significant decrease of $1.5 million in state funding we endured this year. Unfortunately, it now appears the only way left to close this gap will be to reduce staff and program.

Every district across the state—many less needy or some even considered affluent— received additional aid under the recent state budget agreement. And while, I don’t begrudge those other districts, I must question how our state legislators can say that the aid restoration was fair and equitable to small urban and rural districts—and the students who would benefit most from the additional funding.

While I’m disappointed in the end result, I am proud of the valiant efforts made by Watervliet’s faculty, staff, students, Board of Education, and community members during the past few months on behalf of our district, including a letter writing campaign, trips to the State Capitol to advocate for our schools, sending e-mails and making phone calls to our state representatives.   

Over the course of the next several weeks, many difficult decisions will have to be made and I pledge to provide open, timely communication to the Watervliet community, regardless of how bad the news may be.

Despite diminishing resources, we will continue to educate every student, every day to the very best of our ability.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Time running short for state aid restoration

Shortly after I became superintendent eight weeks ago, Gov. Andrew Cuomo released his executive budget proposal for 2012-13. Since that time, I and many others have attempted to raise awareness of the devastating impact the governor’s state aid proposal would have on Watervliet and other city school districts like ours.

It appears that lawmakers are nearing a final deal and may soon adopt an early state budget. While we can’t be certain what will happen over the next few days, it appears members of the state Senate and Assembly are attempting to restore at least some aid to school districts.

I want to thank state Assemblyman Ron Canestrari and state Sen. Neil Breslin for listening to us over the last several weeks. I encourage anyone in the Watervliet community who has not already done so to make it known to our elected state leaders how you feel about education. The decisions made in Albany in the coming days will be critical for Watervliet and could save the district from making deep teacher and staff cuts to the detriment to our academic program.   

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to address some 900 students and teachers who gathered in Albany to advocate for more education funding for small city and rural school districts. Approximately 20 Watervliet students attended this forum together with Mr. Emerson, Mr. Strand and Mr. Dipaola.

Yesterday, I received a letter from Peta Evens, a student council member and student representative who sits on the Watervliet Board of Education, who attended the forum, which I believe was an important educational opportunity as well as a platform for advocacy.

In her letter, Peta says the forum taught her that she can help make a difference.  

“As co–president of the student council, it is my job to represent the needs of all of the students in Watervliet. I really feel that I did that when I attended the forum. I am hopeful that our efforts, the efforts of all of the people in Watervliet and elsewhere in the state, will lead to our district, and other districts, just like ours, getting the state aid money that we need,” Peta says in her letter. “This trip taught me that even though I am just a teenager, I can stand up for what is right and that I can make a difference.” 

Peta is one of our outstanding students who have taken advantage of the many advanced and college-level opportunities here at Watervliet High School that help our students to get accepted into competitive colleges. I thank Peta, and all who attended the forum, for their effort in helping to make sure that the school district receives the necessary funds to continue programs such as these. I also thank the hundreds of teachers, parents and students who have taken the time to write their elected leaders. You can download a sample letter here if you, too, want to write your representative.

Also, please remember the district has one more public budget forum scheduled for tonight (March 14) at 6:30 p.m. at the Watervliet Elementary School cafeteria. The forum will begin with an overview of the state's Property Tax Levy Cap presented by Questar III BOCES State Aid and Financial Planning Service.

Regardless of what may happen in the coming days, the budget will continue to be a topic of discussion at board of education meetings and a public budget hearing will also be scheduled in advance of the May 15 vote.

Your feedback is always welcome as we move forward in the budget development process.