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Mergers, budgets dominated issues faced by school districts across area

Friday, December 28, 2012 - Updated: 6:10 PM

EDITOR'S NOTE: This week, the Recorder will be looking at the top news stories of 2012. Today's story focuses on education.


Recorder News Staff

The term "merger" led local education headlines in 2012, with officials in the Mayfield and Northville, as well as the Oppenheim-Ephratah and St. Johnsville schools districts citing the action as the most viable solution to significant budget gaps.

After years of discussion and study, the proposed merger of the Mayfield and Northville school districts was left to voters in October. Though residents of the Mayfield Central School District overwhelmingly approved the merger, it was defeated in Northville by an even bigger margin. Both districts project multi-million dollar gaps in their budgets for the coming years. The districts now must wait one year from the date of the vote before a merger can be looked at again.

* Voters in Oppenheim-Ephratah took a second look at a proposal to merge their district with that of St. Johnsville, after having defeated the measure in last year's referendum. On Dec. 11, residents changed course, approving the merger by a vote of 385 to 366. St. Johnsville residents were not required to participate in the second vote, having already approved the measure last year. The newly merged district will begin operations on July 1, 2013.

* Losses in state aid and significant increases in mandated programs hit districts throughout the area significantly this year, but perhaps nowhere more so than in the Fonda-Fultonville Central School District. In June, district voters approved a $23.8 million budget for the 2012-13 school year after having defeated an earlier proposal that would have significantly exceeded the state-mandated tax cap. The approved budget, however, carried with it significant reductions including elimination of 25 staff members, including 10 full-time teachers, though every employee of the district agreed to freeze their salaries to save $510,000 and prevent further staff reductions.

It also includes the loss of the modified sports program, the continued vacancy of the buildings and grounds superintendent position vacant, reduced energy consumption, and the use of $100,000 in debt reserves.

Academic impacts include a significant increase in class sizes in all grades, the loss of the supplementary elementary science program, significant reductions in foreign language and business course offerings at the middle and high school levels, and a reduction in course offerings across the curriculum at the high school level.

Adding to the district's woes, unforeseen health insurance costs, an unexpected reduction in state building aid and a severely depleted fund balance forced the board of education to make approximately $400,000 in mid-year cuts in December. They included the elimination of spring sports, closing the high school pool, refinancing long-term debt, consolidating school bus runs, and switching health insurance plans for retirees. The school board's still must find another $100,000 in savings, which may come in the form of layoffs that would take effect Feb. 1.

* This year marked one of transition in the Greater Amsterdam School District, with three of the city's schools seeing changes to their principal posts. On Sept. 1, former Wilbur H. Lynch Literacy Academy Principal John Penman began serving as principal of the Marie Curie Institute of Engineering and Communications and former Watervliet Elementary School Principal Todd Giagni took the helm at R.J. McNulty Academy for International Studies and Literacy Magnet School. The appointments followed the retirements of former McNulty Principal Barbara Peterson and Marie Curie Principal Mary Mathey.

Penman's appointment to Marie Curie left Lynch under the leadership of interim Principal Michael Kondratowicz until this month when Joseph Witazek was finally appointed to serve in that position by the GASD Board of Education after two previous resolutions to do so failed. Witazek, formerly of the North Rockland Central School District, will begin serving on Feb. 4.

* Despite looming financial concerns resulting from significant losses in state aid, officials at the Broadalbin-Perth Central School District managed to add to its educational offerings this year. Beginning in September, the district offered a total of 19 new elective classes, the result of extensive research and shifting of staffing resources.

Among the new offerings are Ecology, Animation, Robotics/Nanotechnology, Journalism and Observation Drawing.

The new course offerings represent the first phase of "Reimagining a Broadalbin-Perth Education," an initiative launched last year B-P Superintendent Stephen Tomlinson. In addition to the new electives, other parts of that initiative will include an accelerated math and technology course in the middle school, the return of an accelerated art course that was lost to "budgetary concerns" last year, and the installation of an Exploring Student Potential (ESP) program in the elementary school.

In December, the district also announced that it will begin offering Advanced Placement classes again next school year, the result of its receipt of a $465,832 grant to participate in the New York State Education Department's Virtual Advance Placement program. The district has not been able to offer such classes since 2006, when they were cut due to budget restraints.

* In the midst of this spring's budget turmoil, Fonda-Fultonville Superintendent James Hoffman announced that he would be leaving the district to take over the superintendent's position in Averill Park. In an effort to save money, the board of education appointed Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery County Board of Cooperative Educational Services Superintendent Patrick Michel to serve at Interim Superintendent through December. Last week, the board appointed former Schenectady City School District Superintendent Ray Colucciello to take over that interim position. Colucciello will began serving on Thursday.


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