ICC plans for end of hostage ‘gap’ funds

KINDERHOOK–Ichabod Crane Central School District Superintendent George Zini presented the proposed 2016-17 school budget of $38 million to the school board this week, saying that this was the first time the district has had the state aid numbers in time to present them in the draft budget.

The state legislature passed the budget last week and with it came not only the amount of state aid each school district will receive but also the announcement that the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) would be eliminated. The end of the GEA means the state will return the balance of state aid money withheld from school districts for the past six years. As a result ICC will see an additional $617,000 in state funds for the upcoming school year.

The administration plans to use $212,000 of that to close a gap in its proposed budget and maintain current services; another $400,000 will be used for what Mr. Zini called “enhancements” in the next year’s budget.

The GEA was originally intended to divert state funds from schools to help close a hole in the overall state budget after the financial crisis in 2008 led to shrinking tax revenues. But the withholding of state school aid under the GEA continued long after the crisis passed. The state has increased other school aid categories to make up for some of the GEA withholdings and Mr. Zini said that the district needs to consider whether this amount will continue to increase in the coming years as costs go up.

“We’re not sure what our future increase is going to be,” he told the school board at the April 5 meeting.

He also talked about the tax levy increase proposed for the new school year, which begins in July. Because of the state cap, which is nominally set at 2% or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower, the district can only increase the total tax levy in the next budget by 0.67%. Mr. Zini said that means the district can only increase the amount to be raised by the property tax by $148,472 unless the board decides to override the tax cap. If the proposed budget shows an increase higher than 0.67% the district voters would have approve that proposal with a supermajority of 60% or more votes in favor of a larger increase.

Mr. Zini said this budget would stay within the tax cap but he called the number “challenging.” He said that 59% of district revenues come from property taxes, with 37% from state aid, and the local portion has increased over the years. “We’ve been more dependent on the tax levy,” he said of the district’s funding, even though the amount is now capped.

Even with the restoration of the GEA funds, Mr. Zini has proposed cuts in the 2016-17 district budget. He plans to eliminate a 3rd grade teaching position and two teaching assistants due to class size and the lunch and recess monitors in K-through-5th grades will also be cut.

The budget does propose adding a special education teacher in the Primary School and will have a stipend for the Instructional Technology Curriculum Liaison. The proposal also uses the $400,000 in aid to replace some materials, including calculators for the Math Department, will pay for the PSAT tests for all 10th graders, and it will fund an online credit recovery program for high school students who need to make up classes they have failed. There are facilities upgrades included as well, including some roof repairs at the high school.

Mr. Zini discussed class size as part of the budget presentation. Next year’s 4th grade is a large class and when those students move to the Elementary School from the Primary School the district plans to move one teacher up with them and have a co-teacher classroom with 34 students. The rest of the classes will each have about 22 students. Mr. Zini said that the district staff could handle the large class. “It’s not whether our class sizes are too large, it’s whether our students are getting the support they need,” he told the board.

Cutting the recess and lunchroom monitors and putting teachers back on those duties received some comment from the audience and board members. About five aid positions would be cut, saving the district $46,000 but taking away time teachers were using for meetings and extra instruction time.

Karen Vecellio, a Primary School teacher and the president of the Ichabod Crane Teachers’ Association, the union representing district teachers, said that the teachers were just told today about the change for next year. “People are upset about it,” she said. “We do use that time for meet students’ needs.”

Board member Mike Stead said of cutting the aids and having the teachers cover lunch and recess, “It’s not the best use of our resources.”

The board will continue to review the budget and vote on approving it at their next meeting on Tuesday, April 19 at 7 p.m. The budget presentation will be online at the district website at www.ichabodcrane.org.

After the board approves the proposed budget, there will be a hearing on the budget on May 10 and the annual vote will be Tuesday, May 17 from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the High School Gym.

Also at the meeting:

• The board heard a “Future’s Report” on the special education programs in the district. The report, given by Michael Neiman and John McGuire, looked at the options for students with disabilities in the district. They interviewed teachers and administrators and looked at the district finances for special education. “Students with disabilities are being well-served in the district,” the report finds

• The board approved the resignation for the purpose of retirement of Margaret Miller, a TA in the Primary School. She has been employed in the district since 1998

•Tenure was approved for Kathryn Babendrier, Margaret Bortugno, Thomas Call, Jennifer Cramer, Nancy Dolan, Maria Dourbrava, Jodi Gajadar, Emily Lock, Cole Moon, Lindsay Meyers, Megan Yeats and Emily Zeh

• The board approved the contract with the teacher’s association retroactive to 2015 and continuing through 2020. Board member John Chandler complemented the committee for the work the members did finalizing the contract. “It was quite a process,” he said

• Candidates for the three open board seats need to submit their petitions qualifying for the ballot to the district clerk by 5 p.m. April 18. There will be candidate forum May 10

• Mr. Zini said that due to the district’s one snow day April 4, there will be school on May 27. The district had cancelled school that day as a “give back” day. “I thought I was going to make history here at Ichabod Crane,” he said of not having any snow days.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .

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