Warwick school officials look back at 2011, and ahead to 2012

| 15 Feb 2012 | 10:50

    Editor’s note: Writer Abby Wolf, who covers the Warwick Valley School Board for The Warwick Advertiser, asked School Superintendent Dr. Raymond Bryant and School Board President David Eaton to review the past year and to anticipate what’s ahead in 2012. Here is her report: Superintendent Dr. Raymond Bryant “The last year began with the turmoil of the (school) budget and the agony of having to close a school (Pine Island Elementary),” Bryant said. On the positive side: Warwick had its largest graduating class ever, and its most recognized: 59 students were named SAT National AP Honors students (they took Advanced Placement courses and scored 4.0 or higher). Bryant said also that the district can be proud of its balanced budget that “maintained class size, as well as maintaining art and music, and still coming out with as small a tax increase as possible.” He also praised the students who helped out in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene, by raising funds for Farm Aid, as well as the school district’s role in providing shelter from the storm to residents who needed it. Bryant added Sanfordville Elementary School to the positive side of the ledger as the school is “one of 26 elementary schools across New York State being recognized as a Blue Ribbon School by the US Department of Education.” So, while 2011 “started on a terrible note, it ended on an incredible note.” A 'bleak’ 2012 On the other hand, Bryant said 2012 looks to be “really bleak” in terms of the budget: “It’s going to be a difficult year ... more difficult in the future.” The school district is looking at closing a $4.1 million gap under a contingency budget; if voters approve a budget under the 2 per cent tax levy limit, there still will be a shortfall of $2.1 million. “We’re now looking at cutting program and staff” under either scenario, he noted. He also said he and the board are looking to the community for guidance and a sense of direction: “What are people willing to do (to make the budget work with minimal impact)?” Bryant urges the community to attend the Community Forum on Saturday, Jan. 21. The superintendent is looking to Albany for “mandate relief” from mandates that cost the district money and don’t “impact the district day-to-day.” Revisit consolidation Referring to last year’s meeting, facilitated by Supervisor Michael Sweeton among officials from Greenwood Lake, Tuxedo, Florida and Warwick, Bryant said he wants to “re-open the discussion” on consolidating school districts - residents should “see what it means before we say 'no’.” Perhaps, he added, there some savings can be realized by sharing common services. “Could we downsize (those) administrative costs (as people retire) and put that money back into educating kids?” he asked. In 2012, Bryant looks forward to the Spring play, the art department’s chairs project, standardized test results and “all the good stuff the kids are doing - it’s all about the kids and teachers.” School Board President David Eaton Eaton began his remarks by calling 2011 “an awfully difficult year,” largely because of the closing of Pine Island, although he added that, while painful and “not fun,” it was “absolutely the right thing to do.” Eaton said he fears that next year may be worse (“there are no other schools to close”), yet he is “glad I have the board I have ... they’re all veterans (of the budget process). (We) will be able to work together to face unprecedented challenges.” He also said it will be challenging to “meet our contractual obligations” while closing an anticipated $4.1 million budget gap, yet he adds that the board “will do everything (in our power) to keep academic programs in place.... (That is) our first objective.” He added that if the state sends more money, “things may be less painful. (Right now) things look pretty bleak.” Jan. 21 community forum Like the school superintendent, Eaton urged the public to come to the Community Forum on Jan. 21 because he wants people “to have a realization of what’s going on,” and wants the community to “become part of the solution. Parents have to be involved.” “None of us got onto the board thinking we’d have to do something like this (make drastic cuts to academic or athletic programs),” Eaton said. “We have a good board - they care about the kids. We have tried to find a new way to do this. We don’t want the kids to become collateral damage (in the budget process).” Eaton is concerned about what happens to kids if after-school programs disappear due to budget cuts. “We don’t want to cut sports, music, Kindergarten, art - we’ll have to look at that.” Eaton, too, said he hopes for some assistance from the state: He hopes for “mandate relief to save us.” “Mandate relief,” in this case, pertains to Special Education costs. “We exceed (federal) guidelines for Special Ed... We have no flexibility in the mandates. It all costs money.” Still, the process of getting Warwick’s curriculum in line with national standards has not been easy: “Common Core (Standards), ARRS, No Child Left Behind, all have been a nightmare to implement. (The schools aren’t simply teaching) just the '3 Rs’ anymore “Gathering data is fine, but there comes a point where you’re gathering data, not educating kids.” Reason for optimism Eaton, too, would like to see discussion of redistricting or consolidating the school districts. “Greenwood Lake is looking for a home,” for example. Still, he remains optimistic: “We still have a fantastic faculty - we want to hang onto them,” citing both the “youthful energy” of the younger teachers as well as the experience of the more seasoned educators. “We have a community that cares about education,” he added. “If we get a break on the tax levy cap, we may pull through.” The school board president also sang the praises of the district, its students, staff and administrators: “We’re raising the bar on National Honor Society and AP courses. We’ll implement Tony Wagner’s 7 Steps program to prepare students” for life beyond school. “At the end of the day, I feel like Pollyanna,” Eaton added. “We’ll find a way.”