Happy New Year
I want to wish everyone a very Happy New Year. I hope 2017 is the best year yet for you and your family.
Bus Accident Update
As reported previously, Bus 250 was involved in an accident while delivering Nightengale Elementary students home for holiday break on December 22nd. The accident occurred on Country Route 39 in the town of Louisville when a car lost control on a curve, hitting the bus on the driver side and sending it on its side into a deep ditch. Fortunately, none of the nine students on board were seriously injured though our driver and bus monitor have had some lingering issues. Two of the students were taken to local hospital by their parents for precautionary measures and were treated for bumps and bruises. District officials spoke to all of the parents after the incident to ensure students were okay.
The bus was towed to our transportation facility and was inspected by the DOT on January 4th. It will then be towed to a facility in St. Johnsville where it will be evaluated for possible repair. The towing and repairs will be covered by our insurance company according to an e-mail we received from Utica National.
On Thursday, several of us met with emergency services officials to debrief about the accident and our collective response. We all agreed that overall the process worked very well but there are always areas for improvement. We developed plans to review and revise our own bus accident protocols and engage in some related drills this spring. I appreciate the assistance of all involved in the accident, not the least of which are the driver and bus monitor who kept our students safe. We are blessed that it was not worse.
Here is a North Country Now article about the accident.
National Day of Action
The Massena Federation of Teachers are hosting a community dinner and presentation on 1/19 as part of the National Day of Action which has been sponsored by groups like the American Federation of Teachers to show the importance of public schools. While many organizations are using the day as an opportunity to protest President –Elect Trump’s selection of Secretary of Education that is not the purpose of the event at Massena. MFT President Erin Covell requested use of the high school cafeteria for the event to sponsor a spaghetti dinner for the community and to bring in a speaker to provide information to parents on the importance of Internet Safety. They will also provide access to resources such as clothing and food for our neediest families. The costs of the event will be assumed by a grant received through NYSUT.
Here is a Courier Observer article about the event. As the occasion falls on the night of the Board meeting you will likely see much activity around the school that evening.
The following information is from Hinman Straub, a legal firm with the Board of Regents.
Reforms to Combat Heroin to Take Effect
New health insurance reforms signed by the Governor earlier this year aimed at combatting New York State's heroin and opioid crisis (https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-new-health-insurance-reforms-combat-heroin-and-opioid-abuse-take) will go into effect January 1, 2017. Once in effect, health insurance plans will be required to cover treatment services provided to New Yorkers suffering from opioid addiction, increase access to treatment, expand community prevention strategies, and limit the over-prescription of opioids in New York.
Report Released on Community Schools
The NYS School Boards Association’s released their latest research report which offers an in-depth view of community schools, including how community schools work, available funding sources, and the importance of community partnerships.
The following is information from NYSCOSS Deputy Director Bob Lowry:
Governor Cuomo Nixes Traditional State of State Address
The Governor will not be conducting a traditional state of the state address. Instead, the Governor has chosen to hold six regional speeches beginning the week of January 9th. This approach is a departure from the previous two years where the Governor combined the state of the state speech and the annual budget address. At this point, we do not know the times or specific locations of the regional speeches, or when the Governor will deliver the budget address. However, the NYC and Buffalo speeches will occur on January 9, Westchester and Long Island on the 10th, and Syracuse and Albany on the 11th.
Tickets to the regional speeches are available using this link.
We have been told that the Governor will not unveil his budget until January 17, the constitutional deadline. So we do not expect to see School Aid runs next week.
New Session of State Legislature Begins
Notwithstanding the Governor's absence, the Assembly and Senate did convene this past Wednesday to begin their 2017 session on the date required by the State Constitution.
Opening the Assembly session, Speaker Carl Heastie said,
The Assembly Majority believes that there is no investment worth more than education, which is an investment in our future business leaders, healthcare professionals, educators and innovators. And by funding our schools, we are providing much needed relief to our property taxpayers.
However, the sad truth is that public education is under attack across the country like never before.
But here in New York, because of our efforts, we have secured historic funding levels for our public schools, ended the gap elimination adjustment and provided additional support for struggling schools.
This year, we will advance the goals of the campaign for fiscal equity by setting a timetable to FULLY phase in foundation aid.
Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan's opening remarks were less formal; he did not disclose plans on any issues. He closed by reciting from Article III of the State Constitution: “The legislative power of the state is vested in the Senate and Assembly." He added, “Not the Attorney General, and not the Comptroller and not the Governor. I’m going to stand up for the primacy and independence of this body. It is long overdue.” Colleagues from all factions gave him a standing ovation.
Independent Democratic Conference Joins Senate Republicans Once Again
After working with the Senate Republicans to form a majority coalition in the State Senate since 2010, the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) made an official announcement, that should have surprised no one, that they will be continuing this arrangement in the upcoming legislative session.
The IDC, a group of breakaway Democrats, has also grown from five members to seven and one of those members, Senator Avella, is challenging Mayor Bill de Blasio in the Democratic primary for Mayor of New York City.
This coalition will be comprised of 31 Republicans, 7 IDC members and 1 Senator that has traditionally been elected as a Democrat, but conferenced with the Republicans. This should result in a similar legislative dynamic as the previous session where Senate Republicans control most of the agenda, but the IDC pushes a few major issues. Those issues last year were the minimum wage increase and the new paid family leave law.
Based upon the language establishing the new power sharing arrangement, we would expect the IDC to have marginally more influence during negotiations than the prior legislative session.
Congress May Kill ESSA Regulations
A rarely used and little known law, the Congressional Review Act, authorizes Congress, with the President’s signature, to repeal federal regulations. Use of this act has been unsuccessful in recent years, but that may abruptly change once President-elect Trump is sworn in. The Senate Republican Policy Committee has proposed repealing the recently finalized accountability regulations implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act.
In order to repeal this regulation, both houses must pass a resolution and the President must either approve or disapprove the resolution. If disapproved, the congress may override the disapproval with two-thirds vote of both houses. If the Obama administration finalizes supplement, not supplant regulations (SNS), we would expect those regulations to be added to the policy committee’s list.
It may be advantageous to school districts for the Department of Education to start from scratch on the accountability and SNS regulations. The finalized accountability regulations were an improvement from the draft proposal, but had significant flaws relating to the calculation of high school graduation rate as well as unfair sanctions for school districts with high opt-out rates. The draft SNS regulations were also problematic and borderline unworkable in NY, and we are skeptical that the final regulations will be an improvement.
New Reserve Fund Requirements Imposed
At the end of the year the Governor signed legislation, introduced at the request of the State Comptroller, that placed new requirements on reserve fund transfers. The law requires each district to include in the proposed budget and property tax card numerous pieces of information relating to reserve funds. The law further requires that multi-year financial plans, if any, and final budget to be posted on the district website, as well as information relating to Comptroller audits. Finally, the bill removes the authority of the superintendent to make transfers or payments of funds into any reserve fund without a board resolution.
In our letter to the Governor requesting a veto, we argued that school districts are already very transparent and accountable and no other entity is the state is subject to all these disclosure and accountability requirements. This bill also fails to address the critical issue of authorizing additional reserve funds for other post-employment benefits and Teachers Retirement System obligations to ensure school district financial sustainability.
Our objections to this bill were less rooted in the additional financial reporting requirements than in the neglect to address reserve fund issues that could actually help school districts improve their financial condition
Teacher Gag Order Lawsuit
The New York State United Teacher and the State Education Department have reached an agreement over a so called “gag order” that prohibited teachers that graded 3-8 ELA and math assessments from discussing questions and answers that were on those exams. Teachers that violated the “gag orders” were subject to part 83 moral character hearings.
This agreement was reached after NYSUT sued the State Education Department in 2014 challenging the constitutionality of the “gag order.” Pursuant to the settlement, SED agreed to allow teacher to discuss all publicly released materials from the grade 3-8 ELA and math assessments as soon as SED releases those materials.
1/9—Policy Committee Meeting—6:30 pm—CAB
1/11-12—Special Education Consultant in District
1/16—Martin Luther King Day—No School
1/19—Finance Committee Meeting—5:30 pm—HS Student Affairs; BOE Meeting—6:30 pm—HS Room 316