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North Collins School Board talks of adding programs

After two years of searching for cost saving measures the North Collins School Board entertained a lengthy discussion on means to offer additional educational opportunities to students.

The optimism that options were available stemmed from several factors. The board ratified a new agreement with district teachers along with a few more revenue generating changes submitted by Superintendent Benjamin Halsey.

Halsey suggested to the board not funding federally sponsored programs but rely on grant income provided each year of $300,000. The district has been pre funding the programs as insurance if the grants were to dry up. Halsey had offered the option previously but thought it risky. On review he said that in his eleven years with the district the funds have always come in. Additionally, he had received new information on the impact of federal sequestration. Initially it was thought that the measure would drop district funding by over $100,000 for the following year’s budget, but actually it should only be reduced by $15,000. He also announced that a mysterious reduction of $200,000 in state aid had been restored to its full level.

Halsey also identified funds in a $1 million Repair Reserve account of which he recommended the board apply $25,000 towards repairs this year. Savings might not be totally painless as a proposal to possibly cut a full-time laborer position and add an additional $40,000 to the mix. Those savings would be muted a bit by the need to hire a part-time cleaning position. Also adding savings was the announced intention of a senior faculty member to retire at the end of this school year. A new hire in the position will be at a lower pay rate.

Under Halsey’s revision which also keeps the tax levy increase the same as last year at 3.2 percent, the district would see a surplus of $11,441. While the surplus was far from having any impact on restoring programs, the board has discussed reducing its annual $1.2 million contribution towards balancing the following year’s budget and avoiding sudden budget shocks.

Board Member Richard Foster believed the district could reduce the amount by $100,000 and do so for at least the next seven years to restore, at least partially, some cut programs and increase electives.

Following a yearlong review of the effect of programming cuts, the board has identified music, guidance, tech and home and careers as areas where even incremental increases could offer increased programming. There seems to be consensus as well that some changes in the scheduling of science courses, especially concerning the utilization of lab time by students. “We have award winning science teachers on our staff,” said Board Member David Gier, “I’m sure they can figure something out.”

The board requested that Jr.-Sr. High Principal Annie Metcalf examine the potential curriculum opportunities with incremental increases in staffing and report back. Halsey, enjoying the positive direction the budget was taking, told the board “This is the most engaging discussion we’ve had over the past two and a half years.” However he tempered his enthusiasm reminding them that “This could all change if state aid drops next year. If you can do these things this year, that’s great.”

Halsey also announced that plans are fairly well formalized to host an after school program at the elementary school. The program will be run, financed and staffed by the Town Recreation Department. It is expected to commence on April 8th following spring break and run from after school until 6 p.m. each day.

The Superintendent also reported on the recent visit to the elementary school by State Education Commissioner John King. He reported that communications since indicate the Commissioner was impressed with the school’s programing and facilities and spent considerable time engaging with North Collins students during the visit.

Board Member Martin Niefergold reported that the April 30 deadline is nearing for residents to submit nominations for the first class of “Sports Hall of Fame” members. Nomination forms were included in the district newsletter which is now primarily available through the district’s web site. While on the topic, the board was somewhat concerned if going electronic is fully getting school news into the community. Fifty residents have opted to continue receiving a printed version and the district is printing 200 copies each issue. It was suggested that those extra copies be distributed to various locations around the district to make them more available.

In other business the board:

• Accepted the results of a board sponsored survey of faculty and staff and made public the results. Copies are available in the district office.

• Approved George Weimer as unpaid assistant for the Girls JV and Varsity Softball program and approved Jessica L. Sheehan as a substitute teacher.

• Accepted, with regret, the intention of Janice L. King to retire as speech and hearing handicapped teacher, effective June 30.

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