Germantown sits down to plan its future

GERMANTOWN–The Germantown Central School District has 585 students in K-12, all of whom attend school in one large building on Main Street. For the February 1 World Café forum, presented by the Board of Education and facilitated by Questar III, it almost seemed as if each student was represented by at least one parent and at least one teacher.

Some 18 tables, with 10 chairs each, were full, as participants circulated for designated time periods to discuss four questions: essential programs and services they wished to see continued; options the district should examine with neighboring districts; potential response if the district has to propose a tax increase greater than the state-mandated property tax levy limit; and innovative options and new models the district should consider.

This reporter sat in on question number one, listening as three rounds–30 people–discussed essential programs and services they wanted the district to continue. Most of the participants were women, most had children in the district, now or in the past, and at least half-a-dozen were GCSD teachers. A designated “scribe” recorded the points made.

To a person, these participants wanted to maintain or improve everything the district currently offers academically: good teachers, small classes, Advanced Placement courses, technology courses, theater, art and music. In grade school they wanted early intervention when needed and also attention paid to bright, school-ready kids. Good communication between the district and the community was also essential, they said.

Regarding administration, these participants were more flexible: sharing a superintendent and moving to a single K-12 principal were discussed. Sports might be maintained by combining teams with other districts or forming booster clubs to help with expenses.

Sasha Boak-Kelly, who has a daughter in kindergarten, was one of the participants. “I love the school; Isabella’s teacher is great–young and energetic. I’ve met with the principal, Sue Brown, a couple of times, to see how I can help.”

Ms. Boak-Kelly appreciated the forum. “The ideas were good, but they won’t save $2 million.”

The district projects a $2 million deficit by the 2013-14 school year.

“Maybe we’re not being realistic,” said Ms. Boak-Kelly, who is director of the Annual Fund at Bard College. “If you want good schools, you have to pay for them.”

Participants used colored stickers to designate their most important points. The results are posted on the district website,

For question #2, options the district should examine with other districts, the summary lists 13 responses, including “investigate merging with another district”–a district that is a “good fit” with Germantown, which many of those at the event said would eliminate the Hudson and Catskill districts as potential merger partners.

For question #3, regarding the tax levy, participants said they would be willing to pay a higher tax to Germantown than to another district, in order to maintain a sense of identity. Shifting to a compressed school week, having teachers pay a higher percentage of their health-care premiums, and re-evaluating school personnel contracts are also listed.

Question #4 lists eight innovative options, including distance learning, renewable energy, using smaller buses or vans, pursing e-readers or Kindles, considering a three-year high school program, privatizing the school and shifting to a union-free school district.

At the close of the forum, Superintendent Patrick Gabriel urged the participants to attend the school board’s February 8 budget meeting.

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