$36.5M TH budget sees no tax hike

Common Core foe’s outburst aims ire at derailed state data plan
CRARYVILLE–The April 22 meeting of the Taconic Hills Board of Education included a brief but heated exchange about Common Core standards during the public forum and a vote by the board to adopt a $36.5-million budget that would have no increase in the tax levy.

In his third appearance before the board, Chuck Miller read from a prepared statement, saying that he wanted to “make the public aware of the dangers of the hoax of the Common Core.” Mr. Miller seemed mainly concerned about privacy in the data collection process, although he also claimed that the Common Core curriculum is “illegal and unconstitutional” and that the federal government had “bribed states” to adopt it.

At that point, a member of the board noted that Mr. Miller had gone significantly over the three-minute time limit for individual public comments, prompting Mr. Miller to say, “I’m not leaving this room until you answer these questions.”

The board then proposed a motion to return to the scheduled business of the session, to which Mr. Miller responded, “I’m going to get a constitutional lawyer and I’m going to sue every one of you,” before directing an expletive at the board and leaving the room.

Asked to comment on the incident after the meeting, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Neil L. Howard, Jr., first noted that the state has terminated its contract to store student data with data storage company inBloom, which forced the company to “destroy [the data] they had.” He acknowledged that privacy concerns associated with the Common Core standards were an issue for “some people,” but he added, “We collect data all the time for instructional purposes, not for other purposes which [Mr. Miller] was alluding to. Everyone has a student I.D. We have employee I.D. numbers, but we try to be very sensitive to those concerns.”

The policy of the Taconic Hills Board is that no dialogue will occur between the board and members of the public during the meetings. When a previous speaker at the public forum lamented this fact, Dr. Howard explained the policy, saying, “The board meeting is a business meeting. It is not required that there be a public comment forum at all.”

Board of Education President Kevin Maisenbacher added that the no-dialogue policy had been adopted because, in previous meetings, people had asked questions unrelated to the business of the board, or addressed matters the board was not qualified or prepared to answer. “I’ve seen people run for office during the public forum,” Mr. Maisenbacher said, noting that this was an inappropriate use of the board’s time.

The meeting settled back into its scheduled business with Director of Instruction and Staff Development Sandra Gardner presenting the state School Report Card data for the 2011-12 school year, the most recent year for which data are officially available. She first noted that enrollment in the district has been steadily declining for several years.

She then moved on to student performance in specific subjects. While the district’s students tended to do well on the Regents exams in Living Environment, U.S. History and English, Ms. Gardner noted “concerns” about students’ performance on the Global History and Algebra exams. She said that performance in these subjects affects the district graduation rate.

When a board member asked if she was concerned about “how low we are on all these charts,” Ms. Gardner said that she was more concerned with whether performance was improving year to year. As far as proposals for solutions to low achievement in global history and algebra, she said that there have been “serious discussions” about organizing classes so that every other day some students will have a two-period algebra class in place of their English class.

“Our parent participation is not as high as other districts,” and that the district “needs to have our parents more engaged” Ms. Gardner said.
The link for the full report card is available on the budget page of the Taconic Hills Central School District website www.taconichills.k12.ny.us.

Dr. Howard gave an update on phases 4A and 4B of the school’s building projects, which include significant repairs throughout the school property, as well as projects to improve the school’s wheelchair accessibility and energy efficiency. When asked how many of the projects he listed could be covered by the school’s existing budget, Dr. Howard replied, “All of them.”

Also at this week’s meeting the board voted to adopt a $36,585,671 budget for the 2014-15 school year. Spending would rise by $1.4 million, or nearly 4% over the current year, according to figures on the district website. But the tax levy of $22,480,000 is exactly the same as the levy for the current year, so there would be no increase in the amount the district needs to raise from property taxes.

Many members of the board expressed gratitude to Business Manager Cybil Howard for her efforts in coming up with a budget that fully funded school programs without any increase in the levy.

The budget now goes before district voters at the annual budget vote and election May 20, 2014 from noon to 9 p.m. at the school campus.

In other business this week the board:

•Cast its vote for members of the board of Rensselaer-Columbia-Greene Counties Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES/Questar III)) for John Hill, Marilyn Noonan, James Keegan, and Joseph Garland. Dr. Howard noted that Mr. Keegan will not be seeking re-election after this term, which expires in 2017, and suggested that someone from the Taconic Hills Central School District consider running for this position at that time.

•Established a committee to consider changing the school’s Titan logo. New logos could be available for discussion as early as the next board meeting

•Announced that the school will present three performances of “Thunder on Sycamore Street” April 25, and 26 at 7 p.m., and April 27 at 2 p.m.

•Announced that Love Your Parks Day is May 3 and the district has permission to use an undeveloped section of the Harlem Valley Rail Trail property for an obstacle course and to design a cross country course in the fall. Dr. Howard encouraged people to volunteer with their clippers to help clear the trail.

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