State’s workload may slow ICC capital improvements

KINDERHOOK–Representatives from CSArch and Turner Construction attended the Ichabod Crane Board meeting February 5 to give an update on the major capital improvement project the district is about to undertake. In December voters approved the board’s proposal to spend $27 million on upgrades to all three school buildings as well as projects around the campus.

Ed Anker, from CSArch, the firm designing the project, said his company was meeting with groups in the district on a “bi-weekly basis.” He said he had just received the results of a space survey from the schools’ staff about how the buildings are currently being used and how they would like the space to be used.

Mr. Anker said his company was meeting with “component groups” in the district. He also said that they are currently reviewing a site survey. Part of the plan includes building a road from the middle school building to the primary school, connecting all three school buildings in the district.

He said CSArch plans is to work on the designs until the end of August.

The plans will have to be approved by the state Education Department (SED) once they are finalized. One audience member during the public comment period at the beginning of the meeting brought up a recent story published by the Times Union about the backlog of project reviews at SED. The story says SED “has a perpetual backlog of school building project reviews, with nearly half taking six months or longer before they are approved.” (Tuesday, February 5).

The state Office of Comptroller conducted an audit of the SED to determine if the department’s Facilities Planning Bureau “completes its review of projects in a timely manner and, if not, what the impacts on school districts are” according to the report. The audit covered the period July 1, 2013 to October 18, 2018. Key findings from the comptroller’s audit included the statements that the SED “does not perform project plan reviews timely, and lacks guidelines that define a reasonable time period to review a project. As of August 2018, the bureau estimated a lag time to begin its architectural and engineering reviews as 2-4 weeks and 38-40 weeks, respectively…. According to district officials, these delays have impacted their ability to complete projects in a reasonable and timely fashion and caused them to reduce the scope of their projects or increase expected costs.”

Mr. Anker told the board that his company was well aware of the issue but that the SED has to review all school projects in the state. He also said that projects can be pulled out of the whole capital improvement proposal for separate review which may speed up the process. They plan to pull out the high school auditorium roof repair project from the rest of the capital improvement project so that it can be reviewed separately.

He also said that there are some projects that can have a “third party review,” but that there are costs associated with that.

He stressed that getting plans together for the review is an “iterative process” and that he was giving the board a conservative time line for when they will be ready to bid the work out to construction companies.

Also at the meeting, District Business Manager Michael Brennan said that the state Comptroller has conducted an audit in the district looking into procurement procedures. He said that Comptroller’s Office generally visits a school district every five years and picks an area to look into. He said that it had been longer than five years since the state had looked into the district’s finances and that “overall it’s a very good report.” The report is online at https://osc.state.ny.us/localgov/audits/schools/2019/kinderhook.htm.

The key findings included: district officials properly sought competition for 10 purchases totaling $1.2 million that exceeded General Municipal Law’s bidding requirements; district officials did not provide documentation that they obtained quotes prior to making three purchases totaling $18,174; district officials were unable to provide documentation supporting their selection of four professional service providers paid a total of $76,781.

“It is a good process to go through,” Mr. Brennan said.

Board President Matthew Nelson said he sat through the exit interview with the state and district officials about the audit and the state was “pretty positive” about the report.

The board accepted the Comptroller’s Audit and Corrective Action Plan during the meeting.

Also at the meeting:

• District residents asked that the board not cut the French language program. At a budget workshop last month the board discussed options for next year when a French teacher retires. One option was to phase out the French program, while others were to keep the program as is or in part. Among the options would be a distance learning program to continue subjects that will be impacted by low student enrollment and teacher retirements.

Superintendent Michael Vanyo asked that the board host another budget workshop on February 26 at 6 p.m. to discuss the options presented and where the board wants the district to go next year with those programs. The meeting will be held in the high school library. He said that the board and administrators wanted to do what is best for the students but, “We just don’t have an unlimited budget” adding that “living under the cap is much different,” a reference to the state’s 2% tax cap on property tax increases

• Mr. Vanyo also recommended the board appoint Suzanne Guntlow assistant superintendent. Ms. Guntlow is currently a district administrator under the title principal for Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR). Mr. Vanyo said that when the former district assistant superintendent retired in 2010 the position of assistant went unfilled. He also said that Ms. Guntlow had done an “outstanding job” while he was on medical leave earlier this year and she took over the day-to-day work of the superintendent during his absence. He suggested the board abolish the APPR title and new position would not come with a pay increase in this year’s budget. The board took no action on the proposal at the meeting

• The board accepted the resignation for the purpose of retirement of teaching assistant Kelly Nicoletta, effective April 26. “She will be missed,” said Ms. Guntlow.

The next regular board meeting will be March 5 at 7 p.m. The board will host a special budget workshop on February 26 at 6 p.m. Both meetings will be in the high school library.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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