By HEATHER NELLIS
Recorder News Staff
Fonda-Fultonville Central School District interim Superintendent Ray Colucciello cited objectivity Wednesday when asked to explain the decisions behind the recent elimination of two positions that were part of a half-million dollars in mid-year cuts.
On the cross-side of that, however, is the subjectivity of two people who lost their jobs -- 19-year school psychologist Michael Fraser, and 26-year business teacher Laura Bellinger.
"I understand, intellectually, hard decisions have to be made," Fraser said in an interview he requested Wednesday. "I'm not prone to bitterness or anger, but I'm disappointed."
So are the community members who have stood behind him since the news was announced Jan. 31. Fraser said he continues to receive an outpouring of support, for which he is humbled and flattered.
"People are checking to see if Doc is OK, and for the record, Doc is OK," he said.
But some, including Fraser, believe savings could have come from somewhere else. He said he met with Colucciello and was asked what he recommended.
"I gave him some that I thought made sense and spared people losing their jobs, and I guess, as they say, he took it under advisement," Fraser said.
Colucciello said every program was reviewed in determining the $500,000 in cuts to generate savings that will build up a depleted fund balance in order to avert cash-flow issues at the end of the year.
In building the recommendation he crafted with administrators for the Board of Education, Colucciello said each program was posed next to a 14-point guideline for review.
The questions range from whether the program is mandated, to how many students are impacted, to whether students and parents were promised the program, to the success of students and how many are passing, to the level of savings.
"It's about making an unscientific process into a scientific one," Colucciello said.
Five positions were considered for elimination, Colucciello said. In addition to the psychologist and business teacher position, he also listed two art teachers and a music teacher.
He said the ultimate decision came down to the fact the psychologist and business teacher posts aren't mandated, and their elimination affected a less number of students.
The art and music teachers aren't mandated either, Colucciello said, because classroom teachers can teach art and music.
But classroom teachers aren't certified in those subjects, and eliminating the art and music teachers would have meant affecting the entire elementary school.
"I've used this system in three or four districts, when reviewing every program and laying it up against that sheet," he said of the aforementioned guideline. "And we'll do that again when we build the next budget."
The district is also facing a $1.7 million shortfall for the upcoming budget, and has already lost 25 percent of its staff in the past five years because of budgetary constraints.
"There isn't much room," Colucciello said. "When you get down to the bone, plus some, there isn't much to cut. We're at the marrow."
Fraser said he recognizes he wasn't the first staff member to lose his job, and he won't be the last. He said he's holding out some hope in board President Linda Wszolek's comments about the possibility all decisions could be revisited.
"It's the hope on my part, and the hope on the community's part," Fraser said. "At some point I do understand it's a tough time financially, which is why I'm not taking it personally."
Colucciello said Fraser's duties will be absorbed by the school's social worker, its three guidance counselors, and school psychologist Michael Frollo, who is contracted through BOCES.
Some have questioned Frollo's absorption of some of Fraser's duties, as Frollo's wife, Mary Frollo, is a school board member.
Colucciello, who just finished his first month on the job, said he had no idea about the relationship until after the fact. He confirmed the district "will increase [Michael Frollo's] time, but we get aid for BOCES services."
"I'm the only guy here who doesn't know who's related to who. If there was a conflict, I didn't even know I was doing it."
Fraser said he's taken the word of the board that the students he serviced will be taken care of.
"I trust the system in place, but it will be a tragedy if just one kid slips through the cracks," he said.