ICC board considers bidding French adieu

KINDERHOOK–The Ichabod Crane Board of Education held a budget workshop meeting last week to review options for staffing the art, music and foreign languages programs in the next school year.

At the January 22 workshop meeting school officials also discussed joining a distance learning group that would allow students to take classes from different schools via video conferences. In addition the district could also offer classes to other districts in the distance learning program, which would come with some state aid for teachers’ salaries.

The board discussed the upcoming retirements of staff members in the art, music and foreign language departments and what that could mean for reconfiguring how and when some of those classes are taught. Last year, five teachers retired, yielding an estimated savings for the district of $343,000 in salary and benefits. At the end of the this school year, eight teachers will be retiring, leading to an estimated savings of $409,000.

“We have developed various scenarios for the Board of Education to consider that we believe will strengthen our academic programs and save resources,” reads the Staffing and Program Options plan presented to the board by administrators at the meeting. Several of the options include replacing the retiring teachers but some options suggest moving forward with the programs without restaffing. The report presented to the board is online at the district’s website, www.ichabodcrane.org.

One of the options the board heard from administrators was to move Studio A, an art class required for graduation, from the high school to the middle school. Suzanne Guntlow, a district administrator, told the board that the middle school would increase the amount of time students have art. Currently students take half a school year of art and half of general music. “We’re bumping that up,” she said. And the students would have that requirement filled before getting to high school, where they would take Studio B.

What the district may take out of some middle school students’ schedules is general music. All students in the middle school (grades 4 through 8) take general music. Some are also in band and chorus. Middle School Assistant Principal Marcella Sanchez told the board that the state does not require all students to take general music and the district could allow students in band or chorus, or both, to skip general music. Middle School students not in chorus or band would have to take general music.

The options would also mean moving staff around between the high school and middle school. The board would be replacing one of the two retiring high school music teachers and increasing the hours for a current part-time teacher.

School Superintendent Michael Vanyo said the plan “frees up some time” in the students’ schedules.

Administrators stressed that these are only suggestions. “We ran a lot of different scenarios,” said Ms. Guntlow of different options for next year.

High School Principal Craig Shull talked about the low enrollment numbers in high school music courses. “I wouldn’t ever want to lose our music program,” he said, but he went on to say, “One of the challenges is that our numbers are lower than they have been.”

One subject that may be phased out entirely is French. One of the two French teachers is retiring next year. Ms. Guntlow said the administration has been interviewing for the position but she said they would be replacing a teacher with a pretty small class load. She said that in the 9th through 12th grade program there are only 38 students.

She said that if the district did phase out French, options for Spanish classes would increase, with the district offering Spanish in 6th grade and possibly in earlier grades.

She said one plan would have students in 7th grade who are currently studying French transition to Spanish.

The district might also be able to use the distance learning program to continue French and music classes. The cost to join the distance learning consortium that the administration is proposing would be $65,000 to set up the technology needed and $75,000 a year in membership. Ms. Guntlow said there was some state aid available to offset the cost. The aid would cover a percentage of the teacher’s salary for either teaching the course or monitoring the students taking the course. And according to the plan presented there is BOCES ad for the set-up of the classroom.

Principal Shull and Ms. Guntlow said they had reached out to other schools in the distance learning consortium. Mr. Shull said that the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake School District told him “the schools develop relationships” and can work together on what classes to offer. Burnt Hills offers 10 upper level French classes.

Ms. Guntlow said that offering the program through other schools would benefit high level courses, like the Advanced Placement and honors classes. She said that the program could resolve some scheduling conflicts for students taking two honors courses.

Superintendent Vanyo said the board could approve spending the money for the set up fee in this year’s school budget and then begin paying the membership fee in the 2019-20 budget. According the plan, “If we did this prior to the end of the current school year, we would be eligible for 50% reimbursement in BOCES aid that would be paid in the 2019-20 school year.”

The plan says that the cost for the distance learning program in the 2019-20 school budget would be $42,000.

The board also discussed a request from staff for more computers and devices in all the schools for teaching and testing purposes totaling an increase in the budget of $100,000 a year for the next three years. Ms. Guntlow said this year the district is having two grades take the state tests on computers. When asked about the future of test taking on computers, Mr. Vanyo said, “It’s here” though the state has not set a date when it will be a requirement.

Ms. Guntlow and Assistant Principal Sanchez said there are not enough computers in the district for all students to take the tests on them.

Board member John Antalek asked about finding grants for the new equipment. Mr. Vanyo said it was something the district would have to pay for in the budget.

Mr. Antalek questioned spending the requested funding, saying, “I don’t want to see us going out and purchasing laptops and reducing programs.”

Mr. Vanyo said of the budget requests submitted and the options for next year’s program presented to the board were options for the board to review.

The board will continue to discuss budgeting throughout the winter. They will have a proposed budget in the spring and a final 2019-20 school budget to present to district voters on May 21.

The next board meeting will be February 5 at 7 p.m. in the High School Library.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email moc.r1550290685epapa1550290685ibmul1550290685oc@el1550290685adsae1550290685te1550290685

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