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Westfield school board hears district’s financial prognosis

January 4, 2012
WESTFIELD — And the board is full once more.

At its last meeting before winter break, Jeffrey Greabell was officially sworn in to the Westfield Academy and Central School’s Board of Education. He was selected by the board to fill the empty seat and bring the total number of board members back to nine.

A seat on the board became vacant back in early October of 2011 when Jeanne Habig announced her resignation. The board unanimously decided to appoint an interim board member rather than hold a special election. Greabell will serve the one year remaining on Habig’s term.

However, the news at the Dec. 12 meeting was not all good as Business Manager Al Holbrook gave a presentation to the board concerning the district’s finances. According to Holbrook’s projections, with state aid estimated to remain “flat” at best for the foreseeable future and new legislation which severely restricts the ability to increase taxes, Westfield will be broke after the 2014-15 school year.

“There are no more reserves, there is no cash in the cupboard,” Holbrook said. “We’re in the red.”

Recently, the district has seen a loss of $62,000 due to an error on universal pre-kindergarten paperwork, $113,000 in railroad funds and the $730,000 it received in funding from the federal stimulus plan since 2009 ends this coming June. It is still unknown if the UPK or railroad funds will be restored.

Holbrook’s question to the board after he presented the numbers was, “What do we do?” Since the current way is no longer sustainable, the board is going to have to make some tough decisions to keep WACS running. Holbrook had three suggestions: cut staff and programs; examine other alternatives such as a merger, tuitioning students or a regional high school; or a combination of the previous two suggestions. He is also willing to listen to any ideas the board might have regarding the situation.

Board member Mark Winslow commented that, as bad as it sounds, he thinks the district is lucky it has the time to plan. He said the finance committee has come up with budget building objectives and will look at the budget with a multi-year approach. Winslow did ask for guidance from the board on how members want to use the fund balance going forward.

“If it gets too low, then we’re into borrowing, we’re into deficits — we can’t be there,” Winslow said.

Looking at next year’s budget, there is a gap of $630,000 compared to this year’s budget and that is assuming the use of $575,000 in fund balance. In his presentation, Holbrook estimated the number of teaching positions that would have to be cut for 2012-13 to balance the budget is 10, plus an additional 14 the following school year. Interim Superintendent Margaret Sauer also brought up the issue of at what point the district can no longer meet mandates due to lack of staff.

In other business, the board unanimously passed most of the amended policies in sections 2000, 3000 and 4000 of its policy manual. However Winslow asked that policies 2120 and 3210 be voted on separately. Before the vote, Reynolds asked if the security issue had been looked into and Pisicoli responded that it was only one person’s opinion that it was a security issue. Edwards said the policy as it was up for approval is the district’s current practice. Bodenmiller asked what an alternative might be, but Reynolds said he did not have any ideas, that he was just asking the question.

Elementary Principal Paula Troutman explained that current practice has two adults watching the unlocked second entrance in the morning — one outside and one inside — but no sign in book. It is also not an entrance for UPK students.

“There are adults there watching the door,” Troutman said.

In the vote for those two policies, board members Greabell, Joy Bodenmiller, Marie Edwards, Tony Pisicoli, Timothy Smith and Francine Brown all voted for passage while Winslow, Steve Cockram, Steven Reynolds all voted against.

The personnel committee asked the board to approve the timeline it created in order to ensure the district hires a full time superintendent before Sauer’s one year term as interim is up. Cockram said the committee worked backwards from a target start date of May 21 to create the timeline. In addition, the committee is getting feedback from the district’s staff thanks to an online survey about what they want in a superintendent. There is a possibility the survey may be opened up to the community after the holidays.

During board commentary, Cockram suggested the board write a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo to accept the regional high school bill. Sauer thanked the board’s committees saying she was impressed with how frequently they meet and thinks they are getting a lot of work done.

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Fact Box

Board candidate information sheet for Jeffrey Greabell

“I moved to Westfield in 1988 in order to assume the role of Secondary (7-12) Principal here at Westfield Academy. Continuous resident since then — 23 years.
“Since retirement, I have remained active through serving several interim appointments here at Westfield (including a two and one half year stint as the Middle School Principal), an appointment at Eden Central School and am presently on the active list of Administrative substitutes for our local BOCES and served as Principal of the Ashville Alternative Education program in the Spring of 2010.
“My wife Judy and I have a large family with seven children, twenty-two grandchildren and eight great grandchildren. Unfortunately, most of them live some distance from Westfield so we do not see them nearly enough.
“I was involved in the establishment of the Cross Roads Farm and Craft Market and both Judy and I?had shops there for several years. Although no longer involved in the Westfield Kiwanis Club, I did serve as its President. I am a member of the Westfield Moose Lodge and enjoy golfing with the retirees at Pinehurst.
“I have long maintained that Westfield Academy and Central School is Western New York’s best kept secret and am very proud to have been a small part of its continued excellence. When I was asked to submit an application for the Board’s consideration, it was not a difficult decision to agree. A number of significant issues must be resolved in the near future and the decisions made will have important consequences for our own district as well as for students and citizens in surrounding districts. We must be certain to have as much information as possible so that any decision made will prove to be as beneficial as possible for the students here at Westfield as well as for the greater community. If I become a member of the Board, I?pledge to listen and learn so that decisions made will be of benefit to our school and its students.”



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