Railroad aid, a form of revenue Westfield has been receiving for the last 10 years on an increasing basis, has been eliminated from the New York State budget. However, the district was not notified until mid July. This leaves a $113,000 hole in the current budget.
Additionally, due to a mistake on the enrollment form, Westfield Academy and Central Schools will only be receiving state funding for only two universal pre-kindergarten students instead of the 20 actually attending. This means the district will only receive $8,900 for UPK instead of the $71,000 it expected.
The worst part of this error is that the aid is now frozen going forward at the $8,900, meaning the error cannot merely be fixed on next years form. The only way it can be changed is via special legislation at the state level forgiving the district for its error.
Interim Superintendent Margaret Sauer reported to the Board of Education she had sent letters to both State Senator Catharine Young and State Assemblyman Andrew Goodell. Young has agreed to propose the legislation when the legislature returns to session in January, however it is unclear how Gov. Andrew Cuomo will respond to such a request.
“We (Sauer and the finance committee) have come up with a couple of ways to deal with this so that we will be balanced,” Sauer said at the Aug. 8 meeting. “But we’re sure not happy about it.”
One of these ways is the elimination of a teacher’s aid position, agreed to by the school board at the Aug. 8 meeting. Only board member Joy Bodenmiller voted against the recommendation. Other ways include cutting the technology budget, the difference between salaries of retiring and newly hired teachers.
“I just personally want to apologize to the people negatively affected at the last minute by it,” board member Mark Winslow said at the Aug. 22 meeting. He added that he hopes the board will be more demanding of transparency to stay on top of issues as they arise.
Another major topic this past month was the fate of a French 4 class that was promised around the end of the last school year. The plan was to offer the class through distance learning, however this cannot be done legally now because it would violate the teacher’s contract to reduce or cut a teacher and replace a program with distance learning. To restore the class, which 12 students are interested in taking, to the schedule costs $6,000.
School Board of Education President Marie Edwards opened up the meeting to public comment to hear what those in the audience had to say.
Don Wood spoke first, talking about his and his family’s experience living overseas and seeing how important language is. He asked the board to offer the “gift of language” to WACS students and cut other things.
“You can make a career out of language,” Wood said, asking, in comparison, how many WACS athletes have ever gone professional.
Next to speak was a woman who refused to give her name, but was later identified as Deanne Manzella, who told the board she was passionate about this cut and said the board should follow through the promise it made to students. She also felt that 12 students out of a junior class of 67 represented a significant interest when taking into account how popular Spanish is and that French 4 is above and beyond language requirements.
“I appreciate you trying to do the right thing,” she said.
Sharron Storms, an employee of the district, asked to board to, “honor our students that really work hard. … Those are the students I think sometimes we forget.”
Dana Corwin also spoke, saying she sees the slipping of advanced placement classes and encouraged the board to look at the budget and the years to come in terms of offerings.
Board member Jeanne Habig said the $6,000 French 4 would cost in a drop in the bucket in a $15 million budget. Bodenmiller said she wanted to keep the promise the board had made to the students. Tim Smith asked where the money would come from, and Sauer said it would come from breakage in the teaching assistant position, but there would be no cushion in the budget.
The board passed the motion approving the offering of French 4 in the 2011-12 school year unanimously as long as a minimum of eight students sign up and take the class.
Photo by Jenna Loughlin
Westfield Academy and Central School Interim Superintendent Margaret Sauer, standing center, gives a presentation on Aug. 8 during the Board of Education meeting.