Lowdown on North Rockland School Board Meeting, March 6

BY MICHAEL CAHILL

The North Rockland Central School District (NRCSD) School Board met Tuesday evening in the auditorium of Fieldstone Secondary School for their regular meeting and the unveiling a new district mission statement.

The meeting once again started on a musical note, as the cast of North Rockland High School’s production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” treated the attendees to a song from the show. The show has its final performances this weekend.

After the musical performance, the board took comments and questions from the audience. An audience member addressed the board about the possibility of a creating an educational foundation in North Rockland, much like the one in Clarkstown, that would make up for programs that have been cut or could be in cut in the future. The idea for an educational foundation in North Rockland is not new. The idea was first floated a few years ago, did not generate enough interest.

A foundation would be a non-profit entity and not be at all affiliated with the school district, meaning board members even though they can endorse the idea, could not help or work for the foundation. The board agreed to work with a possible foundation in the future, but could not participate in it.

A concerned parent also raised the idea during the comments portions, of extending driving privileges to juniors at North Rockland High School. Currently only seniors at the high school are permitted to drive.

She suggested allowing juniors to drive would give them more responsibility and a better chance at getting a job. Additionally the parent suggested that juniors driving to school would cut down on district transportation costs.

Board President Deborah Gatti responded, saying she was not sure there were any parking spaces available for juniors at the high school. Most years there is a waiting list for parking spaces for seniors.

Following the public comments section, Superintendant of Schools, Ileana Eckert, and Principal of Willow Grove Middle School, Michael Roth, gave a presentation updating the board about the ongoing transformation project of the NRCSD. The presentation focused on projected student activities offerings and changes to the school day schedule.

Eckert emphasized the goal of students having the same opportunities for activities no matter where they are. Starting next year, kindergarten to third graders will see an expansion of the activities offered, including a school store that will be run by the older kids with supervision from the high school’s Academy of Finance. In addition, new 90 minute uninterrupted blocks of math and English will be integrated into the school day.

Also next year, kindergartners will begin riding the bus to and/or from school with the rest of the students. Eckert assured the audience that arrangements are being made for the kindergarteners to sit in the front of the bus with the first graders. She emphasized the responsibility and community focus of North Rockland bus drivers, saying they will make sure the little ones get where they need to be.

Grades 4 to 6 will also see an expansion of activities next year as well as new 90 minute uninterrupted blocks for math and literacy. In addition to the 90-minute blocks, there will be the introduction of an exploratory block for all students in order to provide the opportunity to engage areas of interest and develop their talents.

Next year grades 7 and 8 will have more options for activities as well as teaming within the grades of about 100 students per team. This will help to create a smaller environment for the students where their teachers can better get to know them. Lunch periods for grades seven and eight will also be shortened and have fewer students per lunch time.

High school level students will have an expansion of activities offered just like the rest of the grades. Senior students will have more flexibility in their schedules, allowing them to arrive second period or go home early. Lunch will also be extended to include four lunch periods.

Following the presentation the board unveiled the new mission statement for the district “NRCSD … inspiring students to live, learn, and lead.” The board voted to adopt the new mission statement unanimously.

After the unveiling of the mission statement, Eckert updated the board about the budget. Her presentation talked about how the new tax levy is affecting planning for next years budget. As it stands right now, residents can expect to see an increase of the tax levy under the 2 percent cap.

In May, a school budget for 2012 – 2013 that does not exceed the 2% levy cap increase will need a simple majority from the voters to pass. If the final budget exceeds that 2% then the budget would need a super majority (60 percent) from the voters to pass. The board would have another attempt to pass the budget in the event the voters defeated it. However after a second failed attempt to pass the budget, by state law the district would have to operate with the same budget as last year.

The ongoing transformation project for the NRCSD has saved the district a considerable amount of money so far, which is reflected in the budget projections for next year. The district has saved $3.5 million directly from the transformation project, and saved another $2.1 million from closing the HMS Annex, and Railroad Avenue School, both of which would have needed serious repairs in the near term to remain open.

The district has also saved another $3.5 million by paying back two bonds early, and thus creating a savings for the district. There are several scenarios for the next year’s budget. The best is if the budget passes with the levy and state aid remains at a similar level. This best-case scenario would only leave the district with an $888,258 budget shortfall to make up for.

However if the budget is not passed, and the district is forced to use the 2011 – 2012 budget for the 2012 – 2013 year then it could face up to a $4.7 million budget shortfall, depending on the amount of state/federal aid. A large budget shortfall such as in the worst-case scenario would have to be made up for with extreme measures such as layoffs or reductions in the amount of activities offered.
President Gatti expressed her concern for the wellbeing of the district’s BOCES program in the face of possible budget cuts. Eckert acknowledged that budget realities may affect the number of students who can attend BOCES programs, but she said that there are some solutions that are being considered for a worst-case scenario. Eckert emphasized that the transformation program will continue to happen regardless of if voters approve the budget.

In Raider news from board member Mary Romano:
-“Throughly Modern Millie” at North Rockland High School. March 9 at 7:30 p.m., and March 10 at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12, and $10 for students and senior citizens.
– “Little Shop of Horrors” at Field Stone Secondary School. March 23, 24, 30, and 31

The board then turned to the remaining items on the agenda. It unanimously approved the finance reports and tax refunds to the Town of Haverstraw. The board also voted unanimously to accept the retirement of Ralph Andreano, assistant principal, and Joan Redling, monitor. It also approved the tenure reccomendation of ESL teacher Jennifer Lauro.

The board approved several more items relating to district operations as well as approved a collective bargaining agreement with the CSEA.

On a supplemental agenda the board approved the energy star performance contract, which will continue the so far successful energy star program in the district. Finally the board voted to approve a revised school calendar which will changes the scoring day for the ELA standardized tests to April 30.