HUDSON — “We are facing big numbers this year,” said schools Superintendent John Howe at last week’s school board meeting. He cited a $1.8 million increases in expenses for payroll, social security, retirement and health insurance, the biggest section of the school budget pie — 70 % of the total amount.
The district also anticipates a $1.8 million drop in revenue this year. That was the amount the district received in federal economic stimulus money and for job restoration last year. The restoration funds were used to restore 10.2 positions cut in June before the beginning of the school year. While the district hopes for state and federal aid to just remain the same, officials know that neither source can they be counted on to support the district this year.
School district Treasurer Daniel Barrett explained that if the current tax levy for the Hudson City School District of $17,538,876 increase by only 2%, it would amount to $350,778. Governor Andrew Cuomo has promised to seek a 2% cap statewide on property tax increases, which could create a new problem for school boards across the state, although under the cap proposal districts could request that voters override the cap when 60% or more of the voters support a larger increase.
The governor’s promise might well be turned into a law by the state legislature, so it’s something school boards need to be attentive to, said the superintendent in a phone conversation on Tuesday, January 11.
“The cost increases create a $3.6-million budget gap. That’s s huge,” said Mr. Howe. “We’re waiting to hear from the governor. We’re waiting to hear if there’s a 2% tax cap. The administration will meet in January to take a very hard look at where we can cut. But everything that wasn’t nailed down was lost last year,” he said.
At the Monday, January 10 meeting, Intermediate School Principal Mark Brenneman spoke about a comprehensive education plan in place to combat low test scores in certain groups. He said the school is in its second year of corrective action for African American student test scores, although the district is appealing the state’s decision on the district’s performance. He said the group did better this year than last year, with average scores of 145 out of a possible 200 points. The state’s goal for the group was 162 out of 200 points.
The district’s plan looks at what kids need to be successful, he said. It involves tracking students at risk weekly to gage comprehension to see what they need to work on most. One area of focus is reading non-fiction, another, vocabulary. “The key is to meet students at their level to help them excel,” said the principal.
Mr. Brenneman said the district would benefit from a $20,000 Stair Grant, which it will use for writing workshops scheduled throughout the coming semester to be taught by Dr. Jean Hunt, an educator from SUNY Plattsburgh’s School of Education to help improve the writing part of the English Language Arts program.
Students progress in reading comprehension is tested frequently in Hudson so that intervention can be provided quickly when need is identified. Elementary students are tested by methods lasting one minute, so that their progress can be monitored.
A high level of ninth grade “referrals” was mentioned at the meeting. The term indicates a consequence for insubordinate actions. Ninth graders, new to the process of traveling from one class to another, often find opportunities to get into trouble in school hallways. The high school is trying to find mentors for some of these students.
Maria Suttmeier, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said that a school leadership team of 2 parents, 6 teachers, the school literacy coach and a psychologist will begin to work with her this week to analyze the disruptive behavior that caused problems in the high school in November and develop the school’s anti bullying policy.
Also in planning stages, said Ms. Suttmeier, is an effort to enhance teaching through technology, to expand the use of Promethian boards and other technological resources in partnership with the Bethlehem School district near Albany, which is splitting a $125,000 grant with Hudson. The portion of the grant Hudson will receive depends on the number of teachers who participate in the program.
Also this week the board reinstated an administrative position to replace departing Elementary School Principal Carol Gans. The new administrative person may divide his or her time between intermediate and middle schools. The board will try to recall someone whose position was discontinued last year.
This spring the superintendent will enter contract negotiations with teachers union. A suggestion to let a board member observe was considered by the board, but not acted on in deference to Mr. Howe and half the members of the board who oppose the idea.
“It hinders negotiations,” said Mr. Howe. He said he would update the board at every meeting.
Upcoming meetings include:
*January 19 Meet and Greet reception hosted by High School Principal Tom Gavin and his administrative team in the high school library from 6 to 7 p.m.
*January 26 an anti-bullying program, “Get the Facts on Cyberbullying” Wednesday, 7 p.m. in the Hudson Jr. High cafeteria, for parents, members of the community and students.
The next school board meeting the January 24 in the Jr. High Cafeteria.