Holley school district worries about potential cut in state aid

Photo by Tom Rivers: The sign in front of the Holley Elementary School lets students know they are missed.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 21 April 2020 at 9:39 pm

District has stepped up technology to help students, teachers connect during shutdown

HOLLEY – The Holley school district would take a $2 million hit in state aid if the state does a 20 percent cut to school districts this coming year.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said school districts and local governments can expect funding reductions from the state. On Monday he said the cuts would probably be about 20 percent. Over the weekend he mentioned it could be 50 percent.

He wants the federal government to make up the difference, but the federal aid packages so far haven’t included money for state and local governments, which are facing drastic declines in revenue due to many sectors of the economy being shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Holley receives $10.6 million from the state in foundation aid. A 20 percent reduction would be about $2.1 million.

“That would be a significant decrease for us,” said Sharon Zacher, Holley’s assistant superintendent for business. “That would be horrible. I hope the federal government will fill the gap.”

The school districts normally have their budget votes and elections the third Tuesday in May. Cuomo has pushed those elections back to after June 1, at a date to be announced.

Holley hasn’t adopted its final budget yet or set the tax levy because it is waiting to see what happens with a possible state aid reduction, perhaps as soon as April 30.

In other during Monday’s Board of Education meeting:

TENURE – The following were approved for tenure: Timothy Artessa, assistant principal in Elementary School; Zachary Busch, music teacher in Middle/High School; and Carrie Rebis, general education teacher in Elementary School.

MEAL PROGRAM – The district starting next week plans to shift its meal program to three days a week. Students will still be provided breakfasts and lunches for five days, but the meals will be delivered Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

The district has been serving about 900 to 1,000 meals a day since it started the food program on March 18. The food is taken to five drop sites in the community.

Brian Bartalo, the district superintendent, said Holley wants to reduce the number of times cafeteria staff are gathered in a tight space, preparing the food. He noted other districts that were delivering five days a week are now down to two to three days, while still providing meals for the five days.

TECHNOLOGY – Brendan Keiser, Director of Teaching & Learning, updated the board on how teachers at all grade levels are using technology to stay connected with students, and accept and grade homework assignments.

The district has sent 220 laptops to elementary students and 90 to middle/high schoolers during the shutdown so students can do their work online with a computer. Holley also has 20 hotspots and has distributed 14 of those to help students have internet access. The district still has six that it can provide to students.

Keiser said teachers have stepped up to the added challenge of working from their homes and learning new software and programs to work with students.

“Our staff has been phenomenal navigating through this,” Keiser said.

He said the district has also tried to support parents, letting them know they shouldn’t feel like they need to be teachers. He recommends parents try to help their kids get online, help them make sure them understand the directions of the schoolwork, and give the kids space to do their schoolwork.

Melanie Montague, president of the Holley Teachers Association, said teachers and families have been on a big learning curve, adjusting to classes through Zoom and other online programs. She urged parents and the students to try their best with the situation, but not get too stressed out about it.

“The lines are blurred,” she said during the board meeting, which was through Zoom. “But we’re all in the same position.”

SPECIAL EVENTS FOR SENIOR CLASS – Bartalo, the district superintendent, and Susan Cory, the middle/high school principal, said they are hopeful seniors will be able to close out their school careers with prom, senior tea, graduation and other special events. The governor has schools closed until at least May 15.

“We don’t have any answers about some of our big events,” Bartalo said.

The district is hoping there will be a chance for the events even if they are celebrated later in the summer.

“We’re waiting on the governor’s orders,” he said.

Some districts have already canceled prom and graduation for seniors. Cory doesn’t want to do that yet.

“Keeping the possibility gives them hope,” Cory said about the senior class.

BIG KINDERGARTEN CLASS NEXT YEAR – Karri Schiavone, the elementary school principal, said 97 students are registered for kindergarten in 2020-21. That is a big increase in class sizes for Holley. The current senior class has 81 students and that includes three international students. The junior class only has 57 students.

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