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North Collins School sees movement, with resignation

NORTH COLLINS — The sudden departure of Interim Business Administrator Gregory Whitman saw the North Collins School Board shuffle staff during its Feb. 11 meeting, to fill voids.

Added to Interim Superintendent Joan Thomas’ responsibilities were purchasing agent, special education director and Title IX/Section 504/ADA compliance officer. The junior-senior high school principal was given the title of liaison for homeless children.

The position of account clerk was created, to handle business operations; Amy Spicola, who has been serving as district assistant treasurer, was placed into that role.

Thomas said that the moves have been reviewed by legal counsel. She added that New York state will issue a waiver for certification in director of health, physical education and athletics, since a current staff member is intending to take the necessary courses.

Movement could be afoot in the library and technology sectors of both district buildings, as well. Last month, the board tabled a proposal that would have seen the elementary librarian also take on instruction in the computer lab, which is currently instructed by a teaching assistant.

While that proposal remains, Thomas presented four more scenarios, two of which she said she found most interesting. She said that the changes would not result in any job losses.

One of those proposals would see a 0.5 librarian at both schools; the teaching assistant would be kept for computer and a brand-new position, that of technology integration specialist, would be created. That plan would offer no savings, but would add programming.

Another proposal would combine the library-media position, provide for a 0.5 high school library-media position and a 0.5 technology integration specialist. That plan would save the district $17,000, Thomas said.

Elementary Principal John Cataldo explained that the tech specialist title was recently approved by the state. Its function would be to assist teachers as they implement greater technology use in their classrooms.

Thomas added that she has had meetings with the three individuals currently employed in those areas and received additional ideas for the changes.

She asked the board for guidance on fee schedules charged to outside groups that utilize district facilities. It was agreed to charge at least the monetary amount the district will incur, to keep staff on site.

Reacting to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent call for a veteran’s school tax exemption, Thomas said there are many gray areas to be dealt with first, and suggested the board follow other districts in not forging any type of policy until the 2015 – 2016 budget year.

She said that she has spoken with the town’s assessor; there is no way to fully know how many veterans have property in the district.

“We all want to help veterans, but it is important to note that the remaining tax base will have to pick up the reduction,” she said, adding that, with fewer parcels on the tax roll, STAR aid to the district would decrease and the combined reduction in revenue would have to be dealt with in a 2 percent property tax cap environment.

Regarding funding, Thomas said she received a positive response from State Sen. Patrick Gallivan, in regard to her request to address the loss of funds suffered under the gap elimination adjustment by the state. Thomas said that North Collins had lost close to $5 million dollars in state funds, since the measure took effect in 2009. She would also be meeting with Assemblyman David DiPietro in the coming week and said that both favored increasing school funding. She said that she would like to see state aid to North Collins increase by $200,000, this year.

After noting the widespread support for phasing out the GAP during the next several years, Thomas said that she has discovered that a rural school consortium, of which North Collins is a member, is pushing for a more aggressive two-year plan. If such a deal was approved, the school would receive an additional $450,000 during each of the next two years. “It’s the right thing to do, and the governor is wrong,” Thomas said.

The board approved a resolution, calling on the state Legislature to immediately eliminate the GEA.

In other board news:
– The board ratified four policies that, while mandatory, had not been incorporated into district policies. Thomas has contacted the Boards of Cooperative Educational Services, which is willing to update the district’s policy book. The project is expected to take two years to complete. Thomas said that most of the cost is reimbursable.

– Thomas reported that two of the district’s full-sized buses and one van are at the end of their use. A proposal to purchase two 41-seat buses and one van will appear during this year’s school budget vote.

The school board will next meet at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 25.
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