Chatham budget’s ready, superintendent’s leaving

CHATHAM–After several months of fine-tuning and negotiation, the Board of Education Tuesday unanimously approved a proposed 2016-17 school budget. The $30,542,416 spending plan is a 2.14% increase over last year and carries a tax levy increase of 0.89%.

At the same meeting, District Superintendent Cheryl Nuciforo announced she will retire in June 2017.

School administrators strengthened programs and increased staff for the upcoming school year, despite a low tax cap, Ms. Nuciforo said at the April 12 meeting.

“We were able to add two staff psychologists and a social worker because of a retiring psychologist. Wellness with a focus on the emotional and mental health of our students was a major goal this year,” she said. “A full-time network engineer position was also added to support the district’s increasing use of technology in the classrooms.”

The addition of a summer program at the elementary school and limited transportation for students attending both elementary and middle school programs this year were also included in the budget proposal.

Specifically, budget adjustments translating to an increase in spending of $110,000 for special education; an additional increase of $50,000 for technology hardware; an increase of $22,000 for the school board to cover costs associated with review of policy manual last performed in 2000 and the search for a new superintendent; an increase of $15,000 for costs associated with website and newsletters; an increase of $20,329 for 3rd, 4th and 5th grade summer school, including transportation; an increase of $3,600 for water coolers; and an increase in spending of $68,898 for water fountains, drinking water testing and possible remediation were listed. A decrease of $86,000 in health insurance expenditures was also noted.

District residents will vote on whether to approve the budget May 17.

School administrators Tuesday also approved funding costs associated with testing drinking water in all of the district’s buildings in response to findings by a school district in Ithaca of higher than normal levels of copper and lead.

The proposed spending plan includes the projected cost of water testing and replacement of aging water fountains.

“All of our buildings are part of the municipal water system, which regularly tests its water for safe levels of contaminants,” Ms. Nuciforo said. “The testing we have proposed is purely precautionary.”

The findings in Ithaca’s school district revealed that copper and lead leached into drinking water from aging fountains and pipes installed in buildings of similar in age to those in the Chatham District.

State aid will increase substantially in the district in the new school year, which begins in July; the district will also benefit from the end of the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which had diverted money promised to school districts. Increases from the state included a total of $557,819 in Net Foundation Aid, BOCES and Transporation. State Aid decreased for Library/Software and Textbook materials.

The increase in state aid is an indication that the Chatham Central School District is less wealthy than it has been in past years, the superintendent said.

“We’re seeing the same kind of increase in student poverty as so many other school districts,” she said. “So many achievement issues are tied to poverty.”

In 2008, 16% of Chatham district students were eligible for free or reduced price meals. That number has increased to 40% of students eight years later.

In other business, Ms. Nuciforo’s decision to retire in 2017, after serving as district superintendent since 2009, drew comments of support from her colleagues.

“Leave your shoes at the door so we can fill them,” quipped School Board Member Muriel Faxon.

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