Hudson District foresees flat funding from state

HUDSON–Graduation pathways, community schools, the budget, voting to approve a senior retreat, and a video-in-school controversy occupied the Board of Education at its meeting Monday, February 23.

Dr. Gladys Cruz of Questar III spoke of career pathways that qualify toward graduation requirements. Catskill has developed a Media Communications program, Rensselaer a Renewable Energy program, and these attract students from other districts.

District Superintendent Maria Suttmeier said, “If we develop a Pathways program, we want it to be something different from what Questar offers” at its building on Route 66. She has been talking about developing a health services program with Columbia Memorial Hospital, but that could take years to implement.

Ms. Suttmeier also reported that the Community Schools program, for which the Hudson District has received a grant, is “up and running.” Through the Mental Health Association, the district has hired Melanie Miller, who will hire three parent coordinators.

Budget workshops will begin March 9. District Business Executive Robert Yusko said this year “is unlike every other budget year.” He said Governor Cuomo has issued an “ultimatum” that school funding will increase 4% only if the state legislature agrees on a “package of reforms,” which Mr. Yusko considers unlikely to pass. “All we can count on is the same amount [of state support] as last year,” he said. In addition, in 2014-15, the district received one-time revenues—for health insurance and from the Galvan foundation–that will not recur in 2015-16.

There is a statewide effort to end the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), which limits growth in school aid to the growth in personal income in the state. Although the GEA has caused the district to lose an average of $2.1 million per year since 2009-10, stopping it now would add only about $800,000 to state funding in 2015-16. Meanwhile, expenditures are increasing.

On March 9 and 23 the board will hold budget workshops before its regular meetings.

Also at the February 23 meeting, a group of Hudson High School juniors asked permission to organize a senior class retreat at Frost Valley YMCA Camp in the Catskills in April 2016. The two-night three-day outing would involve organized outside and evening activities, many requiring teamwork. It would have a chaperon for every 10 students. The students showed slides of the camp. The trip would cost each participant about $140.

If the Board approved the plans, the students could begin fundraising immediately; they do not intend to use funds earmarked for other activities. All six board members present–President Peter Rice, Vice President Tiffany Hamilton, Sage Carter, David Kisselburgh, Maria McLaughlin, and Carrie Otty–voted to approve the trip.

The controversy over watching video programs in school and at recess continued as the board considers a policy that might restrict the occasions where children watch TV in school and the content of the programs they watch. “Did you seek the advice of the PTA, the English as a Second Language teachers, the special ed teachers?” asked Steven Spicer, principal of John L. Edwards Primary School. “You never consulted the parents. Did you see what other districts are doing?”

For the second consecutive meeting, Mr. Spicer referred to a survey sent to parents that indicated a high level of approval for the school’s recess procedure of showing videos, especially when the weather prevents students from going outside. He noted that about 60% of primary school parents responded to the survey, saying, “We can’t get half the parents to agree on anything… but 96% agreed with showing videos.” Mr. Spicer reported that the Ichabod Crane, Taconic Hills, and Catskill districts all show videos during recess time. Germantown does not, he said, because in inclement weather children spend recess in the classroom.

The principal said that if the board forbids the showing of educational videos, children would spend indoor recess doing nothing. “You haven’t given us money or staff for anything else. Videos are our only option!” he said.

Linda Hopkins, a parent and substitute teacher, who at other meetings has advocated reducing school time TV, said that while Mr. Spicer “did buy the educational videos we recommended, he didn’t stop showing the other ones as well. Teachers show videos in class, some educational, some not. My daughter was subject to Frozen last year.”

Mr. Spicer had said that when teachers show videos in recess, children have the option of going to the library or using a computer. But Ms. Hopkins said school officials do not tell children about these options.

The next HCSD Board meeting will be Monday, March 9 in the Hudson High School library, at 7 p.m., following a 6 p.m. budget workshop.

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