BOE members discuss their hopes for 2019-20 budget; support adding elementary mental health services

Board of Education members began their work session on Monday discussing their hopes (if money were no object) and the parts of the budget that should definitely stay in place.

With little debate, the board members determined that beginning a mental health program for elementary students, to compliment the one in place for high school and middle school students, was their top priority.

“If we can get the kids the help they need earlier, that will make a difference for them in the long run,” said board member Pamela Carbone. She indicated she’d be willing to eliminate other offerings or services to find the money to make that happen.

The mental health program for middle and high school students began this school year and has been been well received. The Scotia-Glenville satellite mental health program is run through a partnership with the Saratoga Center for the Family. It was approved in the 2018-19 school budget. Students receive counseling and assistance and the family’s private insurance or Medicaid is billed for the service.

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Board members got their first glimpse of the proposed 2019-20 spending plan on Feb. 25. The carry forward budget, which includes all current programs and staffing based on next year’s costs, totaled $56.955 million, a $966,064 or 1.7 percent increase from the current budget.

The school district’s state’s maximum allowable tax levy limit increase – tax cap – is 3.18 percent. As presented on Feb. 25, the budget would increase tax rates by 3.59 percent because of an expected decline in assessments from last year.

Pre-kindergarten program is the board’s second priority

Most board members agreed that their second top priority was establishing a pre-kindergarten program. The town of Glenville has approached the district about buying the current Glenville Senior Center next to the Glen-Worden Elementary School.

Superintendent Susan Swartz, who called herself a “firm believer in early learning,” said the estimated cost of purchasing and renovating the building would be around $1 million. The purchase and renovations would have to be approved in a community vote.

Board members noted that the pre-kindergarten program may be too expensive for the school district right now, but still felt it was a priority.

Other hopes

Among the board’s other hopes: school resource officers, added services for students feeling academic stress, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training for seniors (grade 12 students) and staff, additional services for students with special needs, vocational training for students not attending college and an emphasis on information literacy.

There were several areas that board members said they were not willing to reduce: current mental health services at the middle and high school, services for students with special needs, administration and teachers and any loosening of the safety net for students – supporting the addition of an SRO doesn’t mean door monitors should be eliminated.

Board member Hal Talbot said that Scotia-Glenville should add the SROs – perhaps three this year and three next year – to boost safety at the buildings, as other area school districts have done. He said some of the cost could be captured by eliminating the door monitors that now sit at the building entrances.

Administration list of items requested for budget consideration
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Swartz also discussed some of the items that administrators had requested: copier, art tables, marimbas and bases, rug and bean bag chairs, TI 84 graphing calculators, an increase in secretarial hours, added lunch monitors, K-1 classroom aide, teaching assistant at the Middle School and support room and increase in psychologist time.

At least one item on their list – creating an elementary guidance counselor position – is required by a new state mandate and will need to be added to the budget. The state says all elementary children need to have access to a guidance counselor.

She reviewed what would need to be budgeted for adding positions, including benefits: teachers, $83,024; teaching assistants, $45,723; and aides/monitors, $37,546.

Elementary class sizes as presented at budget meeting
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Swartz also reviewed current class sizes and discussed a proposal to add a grade 5 section at Sacandaga next year. There are currently two grade 4 sections and three grade 5 sections. Without any change, there will be just two grade 5 sections next year.

She will return to the March 11 budget work session with a proposed budget that includes as many of the hopes as possible, as well as any state requirements, though board members have cautioned that the 3.59 percent tax rate increase is too high.

Parent comments

At the end of the session, one parent commented that she felt more needed to be done for students who are not exceptional but are also not students with special needs, those students “in the middle.” She also said adding late buses to the high and middle schools “has changed the culture” by allowing students to stay after school for extra help.

Another parent said she supported the emphasis on mental health services for elementary students but was also disappointed that no board member mentioned getting rid of the six-day cycle at elementary schools. She said that cycle results in students receiving less music and art education.