Teachers make their presence known

As ICC contract talks continue, union attends board meeting

KINDERHOOK–About 100 district teachers, teaching assistants and other employees filled several rows of the Ichabod Crane High School auditorium for Tuesday night’s school board meeting. The district is negotiating with the teachers’ union for a new contract, but when Karen Vecellio, the Teachers Association president, spoke during the public comment section of the meeting, she did not mention the contract.

Instead, she described what district teachers do for their students without compensation.

Ms. Vecellio said at the February 2 meeting that she understood the difficult position the board is in as it puts together the 2016-17 school year budget in this challenging fiscal climate.

Then she read a list of teachers’ voluntary contributions, which included writing grant applications, organizing fundraisers, leading afterschool clubs, hosting weekend review sessions and purchasing food and clothing for students.

“We do these things as a benefit to our students without cost to the district,” she said.

School Superintendent George Zini also did not mention the teachers’ contract, though he confirmed after the meeting that the two sides are still in negotiations.

At the meeting he did talk about next school year’s budget, announcing that the tax levy increase this year would be 0.67%. Normally the district can increase the tax levy by more than 2% and still comply with the state cap. But under the state’s calculations, he said, “we are very, very low this year.”

Mr. Zini went on to talk about lower state aid numbers and the increase in insurance costs, saying that just to maintain the programs and staffing the district has now, there would be a $481,000 increase in the 2016-17 budget. Right now in the budgeting process, he said, the district is short $469,000.

What would help is more restored aid from the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA).

Mr. Zini said that $306,000 has been released from the GEA for the district in the year ahead but that $617,000 is still being held back by the state.

The GEA has allowed the state to withhold part of annual state aid promised to school districts in part as a way to help address the state budget deficit. A portion of each year’s aid to most districts continues to be held back seven years after the adjustment was imposed even though the state no longer has a deficit. Governor Cuomo said this year that he expects to eliminate the GEA over the next two years.

Mr. Zini said that budget process will take into account the possibility that the district will receive all of the GEA funds and have enough to cover the shortfall in the upcoming

budget. But the district will also have to create a budget that assumes the GEA funds will still be with held.

He said that they should have better numbers in April to present to the board.

“We should know before you have to vote on the budget,” he told the board. The board will review the proposed budget at their April 5 meeting.

Also at the February 2 meeting:

  • The board approved the Preliminary Smart Schools Investment Plan. Information about the preliminary plan to upgrade the districts technology, using $1,309,124 in state funds that would be reimbursed to the district, is online at www.ichabodcrane.org. The public has 30 days to comment on the plan
  • The Facilities Committee reported that the outside groups using the school buildings will be charged a fee for custodial work
  • The district’s Pre-K program, run by Questar III/BOCES, will move to the primary school next year. It is currently housed in the high school building
  • Melissa Murray, principal for APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review), presented to the board the changes to the testing and teacher reviews. She said that this year the testing will still be created by Pearson, the company that had a contract with the state. Next year schools will transition to tests by the new company selected by the state. Teacher evaluations will be different next year. The tests for students will still be given over three days in both English language arts and math but there will be fewer questions and students will have more time. The tests are still linked to the Common Core.

Ms. Murray said the state education commissioner was rolling out changes slowly and looking for more teacher input in the testing and evaluations.

The next board meeting will be Tuesday, March 1 at 7 p.m.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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