Schools advised to hang on to aid from feds

HUDSON–The Hudson City School District, along with other school districts here and across the country, will soon receive more cash from the federal government. Some will come from economic stimulus programs and this week the federal Department of Education said New York State will receive almost $700 million as one of nine states ranking highest in the Race to the Top program. Half of that money is supposed to go directly to school districts.

But with all that additional money in or about to enter the pipeline from Washington, will any of it offset the impact of major cutbacks in state funding that led the Hudson to cut 50 jobs this spring?

The Columbia County Chamber of Commerce hosted a brunch last week at Columbia Greene Community College that brought together school superintendants and business people from both Columbia and Greene counties before the announcement of the award of Race to the top funds. At the event college President James Campion asked state Senator Steve Saland (R-41st), who represents all of Columbia County, about the distribution of new federal stimulus funds intended to boost the economy by allowing school districts to rehire teachers who lost their jobs because of the state cuts.

The Senator, a former chairman of the Senate Education Committee who is running for reelection against Democrat Didi Barrett this fall, said that in spite of the good news that any infusion of money would represent for local school districts, he believes the districts should exercise caution.

“Be careful of your fund balance. Next year will be worse.” said Mr. Saland. “The feds want you to spend it, but your perspective may be a bit different. Use every consideration before jumping in and spending,” he said.

Looking at the school district superintendents in the audience who nodded their heads in approval, the senator added, “I think you get it.”

That theme was picked up again this is Tuesday, August 24, at a school board meeting, when Hudson Superintendent John Howe said the district would have to wait for the legislature to allocate $600,000 stimulus money, which he confirmed must be used to create jobs and be spent by 2012.

Mr. Howe appeared to agree with Senator Saland, when he said at last night’s meeting, “It might be prudent to hold some of those funds in reserve. We might have to cut academic positions again in the spring.”

The superintendent also said it might be easier to hire academic people in support positions rather than add classroom teachers.

The district is eligible for the additional cash from President Obama’s Race to the Top educational initiative, which awards money to schools for results oriented innovation in curriculum and teaching. Now that the state has won the grant money, individual school districts that qualify may apply with proposals that detail how they plan use the funds.

The exact amount of the award Hudson might receive is not known, but the proposal may include plans to help students improve their math scores. Low scores on state tests resulted in the high school being named a school in need of improvement by the state. The board must wait to hear from the state about which students most need help before they can create a remedial plan.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting:

Victor Meyer, the school district’s attorney, was on hand to discuss a lawsuit filed in June by Hudson homeowners who want the new assessments rolled back to last year’s levels. Board member Peter Meyer, a plaintiff in the suit had to recuse himself and was excluded from the executive session while the board discussed the matter. His assessment went up 175% he said. Some residents saw their assessments go up as much as 200%.

Mr. Meyer has questioned whether the district is spending $400,000 it receives annually in magnet school aid properly. Prior to this year, the money had been used to fund the ALP (Alternative Learning Program) at the Greenport School. But in last spring’s budget the program funding was rolled into the district’s foundation aid. Last night the superintendent said he checked documents pertaining to the grant and reported that the money may be used to fund an alternate approach or to raise academic standards.

ALP students will attend regular high school classes this year and on Monday students from the program got a pizza lunch and a tour of their new school led by their former principal Tom Gavin, now co-high school principal, after a briefing from school counselor Rocco Payne about scheduling.

The School Booster Club will have a money drop at major intersections on Saturday, where club members wearing yellow t-shirts will collect money from drivers. The money will be used to fund the modified sports program, which allows kids in junior high to play competitive sports. The group is trying to raise $40,000. To help, call (518) 821-0807.

Dollars for Scholars will host a golf tournament October 3 at the Copake Country Club. Participants can play golf for $85, or just have lunch for $25. Businesses can advertise on the green for $150. The organization, a newly formed non-profit, provides scholarships and helps families work through complicated financial aid applications to fund college, trade school and technical training. Call 325-4338 to register, or 828-6408 with questions.

The meeting was Justin Cukerstein’s first as a new member of the board, and he was welcomed with applause. Mr. Cuckerstein, a former district social studies teacher who lost his job because of the budget cuts, was the third runner up in last spring’s school board election. He was appointed by the board to fill the seat vacated by Pat Abitabile.

 

 

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