Hudson District budget will shed its ‘distress’ label

HUDSON–The Board of Education adopted a 2015-16 school budget proposal to set before voters May 19 and heard about the district’s climb to fiscal normality, an Eagle Scout’s contribution to district athletics, an alley near school property, and parents refusing to let their children take standard tests at the board meeting April 21.

With the proposed budget, the district will shed the designation “fiscally distressed.”

“We had the fifth best improvement in fiscal score of all the school districts in New York State,” said Business Executive Robert Yusko, “It’s come a long way.”

The final step in this accomplishment was crafting a budget with a reserve fund. Mr. Yusko said the district’s rise from significantly distressed in 2011 to not distressed in 2015 was a matter of making improvements in the factors that go into the score. A fiscal distress designation, he said, “doesn’t affect how schools are treated, but the media exploits it. When we were in fiscal distress, we kept hearing about it. This year we aren’t, and we don’t hear about it in the media.”

The proposed budget calls for $45,477,121 and a 1.75% tax levy increase. Details will be available to the public May 1, and a public hearing on the spending plan will take place Monday, May 11, at 7 p.m., at Hudson High School. The May 19 vote, in addition to the budget, includes the election of two members of the board.

Meanwhile, the Hudson Junior /Senior High School grounds have new baseball facilities, thanks to Connor McCagg, 15, a 9th grader at Hudson High School and member of Boy Scout Troop 102. For his Eagle Scout project, he got the baseball field four new benches, two helmet boxes, and two new dugouts. “Over the years of playing, I noticed we really had a need for these,” Connor told the meeting. He worked to get them for two years. His effort included fundraising (including soliciting grants and collecting recyclables) and a day when 22 volunteers did construction work.

Superintendent Maria Suttmeier told Connor, “We’re proud you chose to do this. It’s a lasting asset to our school.”

On another matter, Superintendent Suttmeier reported recently looking at Rope Alley, near John L. Edwards Primary School. “To my surprise, there’s a lot of garbage and utility dumping there. It doesn’t smell or look good. Some is on school property.”

She said someone suggested that the Hudson Correctional Facility send inmates to clean it up. In order to maximize the chances of keeping criminals and school children apart, such work would have to take place after school hours, on weekends or during summer vacation.

The April 21 board meeting took place between students in grades three through eight took the standardized assessment tests for ELA (English Language Arts) and the one for math. Although participation rates were certain for ELA only, those for math have generally been similar.

For the ELA test, 16% (84) of the Intermediate School students and 31% (83) of the Junior High students had notes from parents who refused to let the students take the test, reported Coordinator of School Improvement April Prestipino. This year, the increase in refusals has occurred in not only Hudson but also several other school districts. Having less than a 95% participation rate in the tests statewide may jeopardize federal funding for all schools in the state, Ms. Prestipino warned. Last year, almost 5% of the students in New York State did not take the tests.

“I can tell you from the junior high, the children who come in with refusal letters ran the gamut. It was not, as the media said, only the high flyers,” Ms. Prestipino said.

To accommodate the students not taking the test, the junior high had planned to set aside two classrooms, but it ended up needing double that amount of space, she said.

At the Intermediate School, students not taking the test sat in the auditorium from 8 to 11:20 a.m., Superintendent Suttmeier reported. They were allowed to read but not to eat or drink. To go to the restroom, they needed an escort. Aside from the test, the school was “shut down.”

Parents expressed concern about children, some as young as eight years old, sitting still for so long, but by state regulations, “We can’t offer other activities or instruction,” said Ms. Suttmeier.

To complicate matters, some children took the test on only some of its three days. These partial refusals, Ms. Prestipino said, make the participation rate of the school look worse than total refusals. For such students’ official test scores include the results for all sections of the test, presumably including zeroes for those sections given on days when these students did not take the test. But Ms. Prestipino suggested that, for the purposes of determining which classes and services these children need next year, the district will evaluate them based on only the sections of the test they actually took.

Because fewer than 95% of its grades 3 through 8 students took the assessment tests, the district will stay in “focus,” an official designation for needing improvement, no matter how high the scores were for those students who did take the test. Districts that never were in focus can stay out of focus with under 95% participation, but those in focus already need at least 95% participation to climb out of it.

Ms. Suttmeier, while expressing her wish to get the district out of the focus category, acknowledged that having focus designation makes the district eligible for special grants, which have helped students make gains. If the district sheds its focus label, she said, “We will have to figure out how to sustain our gains” without those grants.

The next School Board meeting will take place Monday, May 11, at 7 p.m., at the High School Library. It will begin with a public hearing on the proposed budget.

 

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