Hudson school board hopes to keep tight lid on spending

HUDSON–The upcoming budget and the suspension of two students dominated the Hudson City School District Board of Education meeting Monday, February 27.

The meeting began a half hour early with a community budget workshop at which Business Administrator Sharifa Carbon presented possibilities for the 2017-18 district budget based on the information available now. But the only questions and comments came from school board members and district officials.

“We don’t have to make decisions tonight,” said Superintendent Maria L. Suttmeier. “This is just an overview.” Additional community budget workshops will take place March 3 and March 27 before the regular school board meetings, as the budget proposal gets closer to completion. On May 16, the proposal will face voters for approval.

Ms. Carbon used the figure of $46.37 million for a first rough estimate of the total 2017-18 budget. That is the latest estimated amount of revenue, based on an estimated $21.95 million in state aid and an estimated $22.55 million in property tax revenue, plus estimated revenue from other sources. For the current year, the total budget is $45.91 million, with $21.92 million in State aid and $21.93 million in property taxes.

Ms. Carbon said that this year overall expenses increased slightly less than 1% over last year’s, and as of now, she anticipates the same percent increase for the new school budget year, which officially begins in July. Savings in some areas, such as the refinancing of debt service, offset most of the increases in other areas.

Board member Linda Hopkins said of the estimated budget, “If we’re going up in our spending by less than 1% a year, that’s a wow!”

Ms. Carbon noted that “like in other school districts, many costs are fixed.”

She also listed a number of points school officials and observers should keep in mind while crafting the next budget. Her lists includes:

• The district’s Vision 2020 goals

• The district’s improvement from a “in focus” designation by the state to the status of “good standing” is great but comes with the loss of extra government funds

• The district no longer has the Community Schools grant.

On another matter, several people came to the meeting to express concern for two boys who were suspended from school for the rest of the school year for making “a big mistake” with pellet guns. Concerns included how the boys occupy their new “free time” and whether they can keep up with their classmates and graduate. Speakers included family members, acquaintances and a Youth Department official.

The discussion followed a letter to district parents from Dr. Suttmeier dated February 13 that told of two separate incidents in which pellet guns were brought onto school property by students. Following discovery of the weapons the district held superintendent hearings that resulted in the suspensions. Such hearings are confidential.

The district has also taken steps to discuss school safety policies and the Code of Conduct with junior and senior high school students and to have the school resource officer discuss “school safety in an age appropriate manner” with middle school students. A meeting with parents of primary school parents was also planned, Dr. Suttmeier said. Her letter is posted on the district website, hudsoncityschooldistrict.com

At this week’s meeting many of those commenting on the situation suggested that the boys involved should be allowed back in school, at least for part of the day. Because they are out of school now, they receive tutoring. But speakers said tutoring occupies only two to four hours a day. Meanwhile, the parents of the suspended work away from their homes all day. That leaves the students m with unsupervised time. Most speakers raised the question of how the boys would fill this time.

Some also brought up the boys’ academic future. One said that next year, a boy “will go into 9th grade unprepared.”

Tutoring “isn’t enough,” another said.

“I don’t want to see these kids end up losing momentum,” said another. “I really want to see them progress. When they lose momentum, they might not want to come back” to school. The District should take this into consideration, he indicated, since it put so much priority on raising the graduation rate.

Another speaker said she had just given her four children a talk about the dangers of doing what the two boys did. She had done so because Dr. Suttmeier had sent out a letter about it. She thanked Dr. Suttmeier for sending the letter.

Before receiving the letter, it had “never crossed my mind to have a discussion” with her children about it, she said.

The next school board meetings will take place March 13 and March 27 at Hudson High School on Harry Howard Avenue. The March 13 meeting will start at 6 p.m., with a Special Education Budget Workshop, before the regular meeting at 7 p.m. The March 13 meeting will start at 6:30 p.m. with a Community Budget Workshop before the regular meeting at 7 p.m.

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