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Kinderhook area looks at drastic school changes

Dec 09, 2010 11:45 am
The Register-Star reports this morning that the Ichabod Crane School District in Valatie has scheduled a series of community forums for January, February and March, 2011, at which the Board of Education hopes to receive substantial community input on the direction the district should go. Amongst the options that have arisen, in the face of growing drops in state school aid, are the closure of Martin Van Buren and Martin H. Glynn elementary schools, the contraction of all high school extracurricular activities, the curtailing of interscholastic sports programs, the elimination of one classroom per grade in grades 1 through 6, the elimination of kindergarten, and the institution of a single-bell bus system. And over the summer, the district will consider another cost-cutting measure: whether it should merge with the Schodack Central School District.

Pushing the sense of immediacy to all education funding worries around the state is a proposed two percent cap on all property taxes being entertained... which would force all public schools to make drastic cuts to survive.

In November, Interim Superintendent Lee Bordick called the continuous decline in state aid “unprecedented,” and said if it continues, the result could be an 18 percent tax levy increase. State aid, he said, has gone down 14 percent in two years, after steadily rising for years before that.

Now paired with the plummeting aid figures comes news that a 2 percent property tax cap, with the backing of Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo, is gaining traction in New York state. This would be a draconian cut for the schools.

“If it is 2 percent, the maximum the district could raise taxes would be $400,000,” Bordick said. “The employee health insurance increase alone is in the neighborhood of $800,000.”

Should that be enacted, along with the other cuts, Bordick told the school board Tuesday, “the public school system we know will be fundamentally different.”

“We had a high teens tax increase projected,” he said. “We’re working to decrease that number. But now we have this other number. We decided to take this on earlier, because we feel there needs to be a clear consensus on what does an Ichabod Crane education look like. We have to make tough decisions. Part of that is to investigate things that have been unthinkable.

“All of a sudden, we’re asking a different question than we were several months ago,” Bordick said. Positions that come open by resignation or retirement are carefully scrutinized to see whether they can be abolished with the duties filled in other ways.

A part-time budget analyst resigned and is not being replaced. Secretaries in the high school have been reduced. Scheduling in the transportation department has been adjusted to eliminate overtime.

“Every area of the budget” is being scrutinized, Bordick said. “It’s clear we have challenges. I’m confident we have the staff to do it right.”

Board President Andrew Kramarchyk said at their recent retreat, board members identified a number of critical areas they need to have a consensus on going forward. These will be the topics of the upcoming forums.

At the first community forum, 7 p.m. Jan. 11, 2011 in the high school auditorium, Bordick will report back to the board the administration’s findings on the feasibility of closing Martin Van Buren Elementary School in Kinderhook Village and Martin H. Glynn Elementary School in Valatie, and moving all those buildings’ students to Ichabod’s main campus at Route 9 and State Farm Road. The administration will report on potential savings and costs and on the adequacy of the main campus for housing the students.

The second forum, 7 p.m. Jan. 25, 2011, will address high school extracurricular activities, whether they should be contracted or eliminated; and whether efficiencies could be improved by increasing class sizes K-12.

“We bandied about putting electives on a rotational basis, so you wouldn’t have [the same ones] every year,” Kramarchyk said.

The remaining forums will be conducted Feb. 8, Feb. 15, March 15, and March 29, 2011. Topics to be addressed include, Kramarchyk said:

* Examining all interscholastic sports programs to see what efficiencies could be gained.
* Examining and exploring the impact and cost savings of reducing one section in each grade from grades 1 through 6.
* Possibility of going to half-day kindergarten or eliminating kindergarten altogether.
* Going to a single-bell bus system.
* Restriction or elimination of bus service within a 2-3 mile radius of campus.
* Alternative uses for the two village elementary school buildings.

“The intention of the board is to have a methodical process,” Bordick said, “so we start early to engage the community, so that ultimately, when the decision is done, it’s a thoughtful decision, not one made under pressure.”

Meanwhile, Bordick said, another area of cost-cutting, namely shared services and consolidation, is being looked at: Requests for proposals have been sent out for study of a merger of the Ichabod Crane and Schodack central school districts.

This is the result of a $49,100 grant the districts obtained from the New York state Department of State to study consolidation and shared services. The study will examine one, the feasibility of merging both districts in a cost-effective way, and two, whether there are services both districts can consolidate to improve efficiencies.

The consultant will be named by the end of January, Bordick said, and the study will be conducted in the spring. A decision on whether to move forward with the merger would be made in late August. Were the board to approve the merger study, it would set up public hearings, and the final decision would be made by the district voters.

Whether merger is accepted or rejected, the board will also consider a menu of areas in which the two districts could improve efficiencies by sharing services, such as transportation and business systems.

The Columbia Paper's version of events are here.
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