School boards try a unified approach to state

VALATIE–Members from four school boards in Columbia and Rensselaer counties met here Monday, December 7, to draft a letter to legislators suggesting ways Albany can help them reduce some of their costs. The group, part of the Columbia County School Boards Association, hopes to meet with legislators about these issues as budget season begins in earnest next month.

On Tuesday, the day after the school board representatives met, the Chatham Board of Education became the first board in the county to endorse the letter. The document is being sent to all school districts for approval before the association meets with lawmakers, probably in January.

 

“Public education, as we know it, is unsustainable within the existing funding framework,” reads the opening line of the letter. It was a sentiment that many board members echoed at the December 7 meeting at the County School Boards Association committee meeting held in the Ichabod Crane Middle School conference room, where representatives from Chatham, Hudson, Ichabod Crane and Schodack schools gathered. Ichabod Crane Superintendent James Dexter also attended.

Regina Rose, an Ichabod Crane board member, said the association had been meeting for about a year.  One result is that a core group of nine county board members has pursued the goal of creating a legislative agenda. Committee members met with James Baldwin, the district superintendent of Questar III, the regional Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) and David Little, director of governmental relations for the New York State School Boards Association. Both men gave the group ideas of what they might present to legislators in terms of changes in state law.

“There are laws and regulations which do not facilitate the education of our children, but, in fact hinder it,” reads the letter. Much of Monday night’s meeting was a debate among the board members about which of those laws and regulations need to be addressed by Albany lawmakers.

“We have to give [legislators] things they can do for us,” said Ms. Rose.

The group discussed special education costs, regulations governing capital projects, regional contract negotiations and taxes. Board members talked about state mandates not being in line with federal requirements for special education hearings, which are costly for districts. The group also discussed the Wicks Law, which requires schools to issue contracts for each aspect of construction projects. Some on the committee felt that repealing this law would lower the cost of essential capital improvement projects. “We could have done so much more if we weren’t hindered by that [law],” said Denise Depice of the Chatham School Board, which just finished a capital project.

Another issue discussed was finding alternative ways to fund school districts. “Our tax base is deteriorating,” said Thomas Neufeld, of the Ichabod Crane Board of Education. Board members want to ask legislators about shared services agreements and new funding sources. 

The committee finished the letter by stressing that there would be, as many board members in the room said, a “structural deficit” for each district if the funding system did not change.

At the Chatham School Board meeting the next night, board member Francis Iaconetti said of the letter, “I found the document to be very well written.” He said that giving lawmakers specific issues intended to reduce costs for districts “was a great way to address this.”

Ms. Dapice told her board that representatives from the Columbia County School Boards Association would be reaching out to boards not only in Columbia County but also in Rensselaer and Greene counties. “There is a distinct possibility that this will become the tri-county association,” she said Tuesday night.

Right now the board members on the committee are focusing on getting approval from their own boards and reaching out to legislators.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .

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