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Superintendent's Message
Massena Central School Board of Education Update
August 12, 2016


The Board of Education Meeting for August 18, 2016 will begin at 6:30 pm in Room 314 of Massena High School. It is anticipated that the Board will go into executive session at 6:30 pm to discuss such topics as personnel on the agenda prior to the regular meeting.

Opening of School

The administration and staff have been working diligently to prepare for a successful opening of the 2016-17 school year. New staff orientation will be held on Thursday, 8/25 to welcome our newest employees and acclimate them to District procedures and expectations. Board members are welcome to join us for the bus tour of the District as well as lunch. Please let Candy know if you plan to attend the luncheon so we can prepare for the appropriate number of people. At the luncheon we will introduce our new staff. The District is also preparing for the Superintendent’s Days on 9/1-2 where we will provide a variety of trainings and time for staff to prepare for the new year. Board member are welcome to join us on the morning of 9/1 for refreshments and the opening session in the high school auditorium at 8:00 am. I am excited about the start of the new school year and the initiatives we will be undertaking together.

District Goals 2016-17

In July, the building principals, Director of Curriculum and I met on retreat at Hawkins Point to begin preparing our District goals for the new school year. Since that time we have continued to expand and revise them with the input from all of our administrators and supervisors. A copy of the draft goals will be attached to the Board agenda for your review. The advancement of our Strategic Plan created during the 2015-16 school year will be a critical piece of our goals going forward. This includes improving student attendance, raising assessment scores, and increasing graduation rates. It also involves a closer look at potential consolidation of schools. At the BOE meeting on Thursday we will present the draft goals and seek Board input prior to unveiling them to staff in September.

NYS Grade 3-8 Exam Results 2015-16

The NYS Grade 3-8 Exam results for 2015-16 have been released by the State Education Department. According to the SED, for English Language Arts, the percentage of students in grades 3-8 who scored at the proficient level (Levels 3 and 4) increased by 6.6 percentage points to 37.9, up from 31.3 in 2015. In math, the percentage of students who scored at the proficient level increased this year to 39.1, up one percentage point from 38.1 in 2015.
% of Students Proficient in Grades 3-8
  2015 2016 Percentage Point Change
Statewide Combined Grades ELA 31.3 37.9 6.6
Statewide Combined Grades Math 38.1 39.1 1

For Massena, ELA scores rose from 26% proficiency in 2015 to 30% in 2016 while Math declined from 35% to 29% proficiency. Attached to the BOE agenda will be grade level comparisons at the state and BOCES levels. Our new Director of Curriculum Stephanie Allen will attend the BOE meeting on Thursday night to be introduced and discuss the results of the state assessments.

Here is a Courier Observer article about the examination results with my comments included.

Here are some clips of Commissioner Elia discussing the Grade 3-8 assessment scores:

Audio: http://www.nysed.gov/common/nysed/files/2016-3-8-test-results-audio.mp3

Video: https://vimeo.com/176785721

New HS Textbook Purchases

The HS Business & English Departments are requesting the purchase of new textbooks for their elective courses. These new texts for Personal Finance and Sociology are better aligned with the NYS Learning Standards and offer some enhanced features. At the Board meeting on 8/18, HS Principal Sarah Boyce will present the proposal and request Board approval. The selection rubric is attached to the BOE agenda.

BOE Policy 8340 Textbook/Workbooks provides guidelines on the selection and purchase of textbooks. Specifically it states:

"Upon the recommendation of the Superintendent of Schools, the Board of Education shall designate the textbooks to be used. Textbooks, once designated, cannot be superseded within a period of five (5) years except by a three-fourths (3/4) vote of the Board."

Freshman Academy

I have a request from HS Principal Sarah Boyce to reinstitute the Freshmen Academy which had been previously in place at the high school prior to the recession. The Freshmen Academy is intended to help 9th graders transition from middle school to high school. A team of teachers will focus mainly on freshmen classes where they can tailor instruction, programs, and services to their needs. Classes will largely be held in one wing of the building for this “school within a school” concept. Teachers will have six classes and a common planning time.

This design will help teachers to build stronger relationships with students at a critical time in their academic life. Accordingly, the program has the potential to increase academic achievement, reduce absenteeism, and promote student social growth. These goals correlate to the objectives in our Strategic Plan.

To launch and sustain the program, I have a request to designate a Freshmen Academy Coordinator. This proposal is attached to the BOE agenda which will be discussed further by HS Principal Sarah Boyce at the Board meeting on Thursday.

MOU with Boys and Girls Club 2016-17

In 2014, the District signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Massena Boys & Girls Club to use the Jefferson Elementary School for after school programming. This MOU was extended in 2015 as the community facility under construction for the program was not complete. We also added the use of Madison Elementary for this after school program. Recently, I received notification that there are some further delays which will not allow the building to be complete prior to the start of school. Therefore, the BGC is seeking to continue the use of District facilities in 2016-17 until they can move into their new home. They would like to use Jefferson Elementary twice per week but not Madison Elementary as the student participation last year was not high enough to warrant continued use. However, they would like to use some space at the junior high and high school a couple of days per week in an effort to expand the program to the upper grades. This will require a new MOU as I will discuss at Thursday’s BOE meeting.

JW Leary Capital Outlay Project Update

At the Board meeting on Thursday, I will provide a brief update on the asbestos project at the Junior High School. Currently, all of the asbestos has been abated and it is expected that the floor tiles will be installed this week in the cafeteria and other impacted rooms. Though the latter has been delayed, we still anticipate being ready for orientation programs the week of 8/22 and the opening of school on 9/1.

Student Ex-Officio Policy

In May, the voters agreed to the addition of a student representative on the Board of Education. In September, the Student Council will select this representative who will join the BOE at the September 15th meeting. We have drafted a policy which outlines the purpose of the program, the selection process, and other relevant information to guide this initiative. I will discuss further at the BOE meeting on Thursday.

SeaComm & Walmart Donations to JW Leary for WEB Program

The District has received a $500 check from SeaComm and $1,000 from Walmart for the Junior High WEB Program. This program provides support to our incoming 7th graders to enhance their transition to the Junior High. I ask that the BOE accept these donations at Thursday’s meeting. We appreciate the conscientious support of SeaComm and Walmart and the dedication of our WEB advisors Christine Sweet and Wendy Lashomb.

Approval of Tax Rates 2016-17

School districts pass tax rates for the year in August after the towns have filed their final tax assessment rolls at the end of July and the County presents the school tax rates for each town.

For the Massena CSD, the towns are Massena, Louisville, Norfolk, and Brasher. The school taxes will vary based on equalization rates which range from 100% in Massena to 82% in Norfolk. A spreadsheet containing these various tax rates is attached to the BOE agenda. The Board will need to approve the tax rates for 2016-17 at this BOE meeting so the tax bills can be sent to residents in early September.

New Bus Driver Request

This week, I met with Director of Special Services Susan Lambert and Director of Transportation Allen Rowledge to discuss their request for an additional bus driver to meet the needs of the special education program. Their joint memo is attached to the BOE agenda. Here is an excerpt which explains the rationale for the request. Based on the varied group of students on the bus and increased transportation times to Potsdam if we use one bus, I would agree with their assessment.
“We are requesting an additional bus route be established in order to accommodate an increase in special education student enrollment. There has been an influx of students attending BOCES Special Education programs located on the Potsdam Central School District campus for the past several years. Also, the addition of a new 6:1+2 program has been located in Potsdam which further complicates the situation. This program has been developed to work with students who are severely behaviorally challenged.
Therefore, five additional students have been added to an existing bus run of eighteen students. If a second route is not established, some children will be on the bus for close to four hours per day. Further, students would range from Kindergarten through High School. Students with significant autism spectrum disorders would be transported with those who are severely emotionally disturbed. This combination of children on one bus route would not be beneficial for all involved. That is why we are requesting an additional bus route be added.”
Other News

Meal Charging Policy

At the last BOE meeting we discussed the Food Service program and the debt incurred by families who are not paying for their child (ren)’s meals. To deal with this issue, we have created a plan which would provide an alternative meal until the debt is paid. This is a common practice among area schools as we do not want children to go hungry but we expect that parents will pay their debts. The meal will consist of a peanut butter sandwich, fruit, vegetable and milk. If the child has a peanut butter allergy, a cheese sandwich will be substituted. This meal will be charged to the parent’s account. At the same time we will be increasing our communication with parents via letters, e-mails, and robocalling when the debt is beyond the limit of three meal charges. We will also allow parents to sign up for low balance alerts so they can track their status. Finally, Nick is looking at the potential of using a collections agency for parents who reach a higher threshold. This is not a measure we would like to take but 10 families own approximately 70% of the current $22,000 debt which has been amassed over time.

Hiring Update

The following is an update on some of our key positions which remain open or are being recommended at the BOE meeting:

JW Leary Principal—recommending Alan Oliver. Retired Director of Curriculum Evelyn Fiske is being recommended to substitute at Madison until a replacement is secured.

Madison Principal—six people applied; interviewing three candidates on Tuesday. I will need to make temporary appointment and then have BOE approve on 9/15.

Athletic Director—we were not able to obtain a successful candidate in last round due to high expectations of salary. I have readvertised for AD position with administration certificate preferred but not required. Deadline for applications is 8/22. Retired AD Tim Hayes has agreed to substitute until are able to find a replacement.

We are also in the process of finalizing some teaching positions which I will discuss further at the BOE meeting.

Albany Update

The following is the latest news from Albany as presented by NYSCOSS Deputy Director Bob Lowry.

State Budget Forecast

One reason for conducting another school finance survey now is to prepare for what I and others foresee as a more difficult state aid advocacy environment in 2017.

The most basic point is that that 2017 is not an election year for state officials, while 2018 will be for every one of them – the Assembly and Senate and the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, State Comptroller, and State Attorney General. Also, as explained below, there some softening in state revenues. So it is easy to imagine that elected officials might try to save money in 2017 to better position themselves for 2018, and cite audits by the State Comptroller as justification, arguing that schools don’t need all the aid they have been receiving.

Also, School Aid has increased by an average of over 7 percent over the last three state budgets, while spending for everything else excluding Medicaid has been reduced by an average of 0.7 percent over the same span (Medicaid has increased by an average of 3.6 percent per year). So I can envision lawmakers saying, “We did what you wanted – we ended the GEA – now it’s someone else’s turn.”

None of the foregoing is assured, but it is worth being prepared if this does become the advocacy environment we confront next winter.

Last month, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli reported that total state tax receipts through the first quarter of the state fiscal year were running 2.1 percent below the projections for the enacted budget. Earlier this week, the Division of the Budget – part of the Governor’s Office – issued its statutorily required first quarter update to the state’s financial plan, giving a fuller picture of the state’s finances.

In my last message I erred in reporting, based on a news item, that the Comptroller’s Office determined that tax collections were running 4.5 percent below the budgeted level; when I did the calculation myself this week, I found the shortfall to be 2.1 percent.

The DOB report says, “…the Financial Plan for FY 2017 remains in balance on a cash basis in the General Fund, with a significant downward revision to the annual estimate for tax receipts offset by expected savings in other areas of the Financial Plan.” DOB is projecting that, for the year, tax receipts will come in 0.8 percent below what was budgeted. The Comptroller’s report was a snapshot in time; the DOB report attempts to project the future.

The revenue shortfall is concentrated in Personal Income Tax receipts, the state’s largest single revenue source. The DOB report observes, “After accounting for potential timing issues, performance across most of the state’s taxes has been consistent with enacted budget estimates. The exception was the shortfall in June 2016 PIT estimated payments which could indicate weakness in nonwage income growth.” The PIT shortfall is chiefly due to relatively weak performance of the financial sector.

By law, DOB is required in these reports to include projections for the three succeeding years – through the 2019-20 state fiscal year. It is reducing its projected tax receipts by $600 million in each of those years from the plan it released for he enacted state budget.

The enacted budget plan had already projected structural deficits in later years. In the projections, DOB assumes unspecified cuts will be made to hold overall spending to growth of no more than 2 percent. Adding those unspecified cuts to the stated deficit projection now produces a total projected structural deficit equivalent to 9.0 percent of General Fund expenditures for the next state budget. For perspective, a year ago, the same calculation yielded a projected deficit of 5.4 percent. Under the state constitution, the Governor is required to propose a balanced General Fund budget.

The DOB reports are comprehensive, providing projections of major economic trends and all components of state spending and revenues. For example, the Consumer Price Index is predicted to rise by 1.3 percent in 2016 – one estimate of what the allowable levy growth factor could be for the next school district property tax cap. Actual inflation for six of the 12 months that will be used to calculate the cap has been 1.1 percent.

The plan projects that School Aid will increase by 4.5 percent in the next state budget, compared to 6.5 percent this year. The plan notes that the 4.5 percent figure is consistent with the cap in law tying growth School Aid to statewide personal income growth index. It is true, as the DOB report observes, that, “Actual School Aid increases approved by the Legislature have exceeded the index in the current and each of the last three school years.” But earlier in his tenure, the Governor was remarkably effective at holding School Aid increases within his personal income growth cap.

Also, the structural deficit is larger than it was a year ago and the Governor is required to propose a balanced budget. Further, as I have written before, I believe the end of the Gap Elimination Adjustment complicates School Aid advocacy, now requiring more substantive arguments than simply “end the GEA.”

The biggest factor, however, is the one I cited at the outset: 2017 is not an election year for state officials, 2018 is. So we need to prepare for more arduous advocacy next winter.

ESSA Implementation

Implementation of the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has been another focus for the Council this summer.

As I have reported before, states are required to submit proposed accountability plans to the U.S. Education Department by either March 6, 2017 or July 5, 2017. Our State Education Department plans to submit in March.

One complication in putting together state plans is that the governing federal regulations are still under development. On August 1, we submitted formal comments on one set of the regulations. You can read our comments here.

We did not attempt to cover all possible issues and devoted the largest part of our comments to objecting to a proposal regarding the 95 percent participation rate requirement which would have the effect of deeming hundreds of New York State public schools to be low-performing. Other New York groups raised the same objection, including the State Education DepartmentNYSUTNYSSBA, and the NYSPTA. The SED comments are comprehensive and worth reading.

Complying with the new law requires states to demonstrate extensive stakeholder engagement in developing their plans. As part of that effort, SED established an “ESSA Think Tank” which now includes representatives of at least 89 organizations. I spent nearly all of yesterday in a meeting of this group, along with at least four superintendents representing their Joint Management Team regions and dozens of other people.

The Department is now planning for regional public input sessions in October, organized by BOCES. For those events, the Department intends to have a conceptual framework of its proposed plan for eliciting reactions. To satisfy another public input requirement, the Regents will adopt a draft plan at their November meeting to circulate for public comment. State education agencies are also required to give their governors 30 days to react to a proposed plan; SED’s schedule calls for the Regents to adopt the revision that would go to Governor Cuomo at their January meeting. Final Regents' approval will come in February.

Upcoming Events

8/18—BOE Meeting—6:30 pm—HS Room 314
8/19—Summer School Graduation—10:00 am—HS Auditorium
8/25—New Staff Orientation—8:00 am—HS Library
Last Updated: 9/6/16
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