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Alexander Central School District

June 22, 2018 - 6:29pm

This past February, members of the Alexander Central School District Board of Directors traveled outside of the district, driving to East Aurora, for a retreat where, according to the school district's attorney, the board members learned about how to work together better.

If that's all the retreat was, it's perfectly legal.

However, in a May 15 interview with The Batavian, Superintendent Catherine Huber said that at the retreat the board developed a policy called the "Norms."

If that's true, and if you interpret the "Norms" as a work product unique to the Alexander CSD, the retreat may have violated the state's Open Meetings Law, according to Robert Freeman, executive director of the NYS Committee on Open Government.

It would take a citizen filing a legal challenge to the meeting/retreat to determine if it really were a violation of the law. Freeman's statements to a reporter is not a legal determination.

"If they came back with a policy that is clear, then the purpose of the retreat was not general in nature," Freeman said. "Policy can only be established and discussed in a meeting in accordance with the Open Meetings Law. The facts, in this case, differ from the analysis offered by the school district attorney."

The "Norms" for the school board, as published in a district newsletter earlier this year, are:

  • We represent all students and District residents;
  • We speak with one voice;
  • We consider all matters brought to the Board as confidential;
  • We are active listeners;
  • We agree to the practice of tell one, tell all;
  • We are visible in our schools and at school functions;
  • We are respectful to all.

It is the "one voice" policy that brought the retreat and the "Norms" to the attention of The BatavianAs reported earlier, Huber, school members, and a school board candidate have used this policy as a reason that board members cannot answer questions from reporters.

After the May 15 interview, The Batavian filed a request under Freedom of Information Law for all documents, including emails, related to the retreat including an agenda, minutes, meeting notices, notes, memos, and emails created in the planning of the retreat, and any documents produced after the retreat.

The Batavian received back two documents, receipts from the Roycroft Inn for a meeting room rental and food totaling $496.80.

In response to receiving only the receipts, The Batavian emailed the school district's attorney, who responded to the FOIL request, and asked: "No agendas? Minutes? Meeting notices? Dr. Huber went into this meeting with no preparation? There was no prior planning? The board members didn't have hotel rooms? No travel expenses?"

Schwartzott responded, "Yes, that is correct – the District did not prepare agendas or take minutes. Additionally, there were no hotel expenses because no one stayed at a hotel. There were no travel expenses because there wasn’t any travel involved – the Roycroft Inn is in East Aurora."

She didn't address the question about missing meeting preparation documents.

In subsequent emails, Schwartzott denied the board held a meeting. We asked her to explain how the retreat didn't violate the OML.

Her response:

District policy was not discussed or created at the Board retreat. As Dr. Huber explained and your publication clearly states (“Recently we did a board retreat and the board established norms, which you also probably saw on our website, and one of the norms that the board established was that they would speak with one voice”), the discussion centered around communication strategies (i.e., “norms”), which the State’s Committee on Open Government (COOG) has determined is a permissible topic for Boards of Education to discuss privately in a retreat setting (see OML-AO-3709).

Moreover, COOG has also long held that a meeting of members of a Board of Education at which “public business” is not being discussed is not a Board meeting, and, therefore, is not a public event and does not follow the requirements in the Open Meetings Law (see Open Meetings Law Section 102(1); see also OML-AO-4762).

While Schwartzott did not explicitly quote from OML-AO-3709, which was written by Freeman, for example, does state:

... if there is no intent that a majority of public body will gather for purpose of conducting public business, but rather for the purpose of gaining education, training, to develop or improve team building or communication skills, or to consider interpersonal relations, I do not believe that the Open Meetings Law would be applicable.

In that event, if the gathering is to be held solely for those purposes, and not to conduct or discuss matters of public business, and if the members in fact do not conduct or intend to conduct public business collectively as a body, the activities occurring during that event would not in my view constitute a meeting of a public body subject to the Open Meetings Law.

In other words, school boards can have retreats for the sole purpose of education and training without violating the Open Meetings Law.

However, the next paragraph states:

"...if indeed the retreat involved 'District goals' and consideration of the policies and procedures referenced earlier, I believe that it constituted a 'meeting' that fell within the requirements of the Open Meetings Law."

In The Batavian's discussion with Freeman about these official, written opinions, he expressed the opinion that a retreat that produces "Norms" would mean that discussions were held and decisions made that were unique to the district, sets policy for the board, and is not general in nature, then the gathering is covered by the Open Meeting Law.

"This clearly involves school district business that is unique to the school district and is not general in nature," Freeman said.

We provided these Freeman's quotes to Schwartzott and she called Freeman and then sent The Batavian an email that began, "It turns out he and I don’t disagree about these issues at all. Mr. Freeman said you didn’t provide him with all of the relevant information when you spoke."

She added, "To confirm, now for the third time, the District’s position remains that a discussion about how to develop strong communication skills at the Board retreat did not violate the Open Meetings Law. In closing, this is my last comment about this; I will not engage with you on this issue anymore."

We asked Schwartzott to provide the "relevant" information The Batavian did not provide to Freeman. She did not respond. When we spoke to Freeman today, he mentioned no missing relevant information and confirmed his prior opinion the "Norms" look like something that is unique to the district, sets policy, and should have been handled in a public meeting.

By this time, we had provided Freeman with the full May 15 quote from Huber and a copy of the "Norms."

"Again," Freeman said, "it seems to me what is described here would essentially be a policy of the board of education and the school district, which, again, should have been discussed in an open meeting."

See also: Analysis: It's still not clear what Alexander attorney and superintendent believe about free speech for board members

June 22, 2018 - 6:18pm

Since April, The Batavian has been trying to understand the Alexander Central School District's policy related to free speech for members of the Board of Education.

After all this time, the district's attorney, Jennifer Schwartzott, told Robert Freeman yesterday, that the "one voice" policy or "Norm" does not prohibit school board members from expressing their personal views on matters of public interest. He is the executive director of the NYS Committee on Open Government.

How a policy that says board members must speak with one voice doesn't inhibit free speech for board members still isn't clear to us. We do know the policy has been used to shut down board members from answering questions from a reporter (see April 25 story) and that is has had a speech-chilling effect on school board candidates (see May 4 story).

Whatever fuller statement Schwartzott made to Freeman, she has never been willing to articulate clearly to The Batavian what her position is and how it differs from how "one voice" is being interpreted by Huber, the board, board candidates, and reporters. She wouldn't even make such a clear statement after being asked to do so in light of what Freeman shared with The Batavian.

When asked about it, she said, "Mr. Freeman correctly conveyed to you my opinion and the District’s opinion regarding speaking with 'one voice.' As for why you didn’t know that before having a conversation with him, I can’t speak for you or your understanding of my or Dr. Huber’s previous statements."

Here is Huber's May 15 statement:

The board should speak with one voice for several different reasons. The board by policy designates a spokesperson for the school district. We have that policy for you and I know that you've gathered those policies from other school districts as well and the board by policy has designated the superintendent as the spokesperson.

Our board has also gone a step further. Recently we did a board retreat and the board established norms, which you also probably saw on our website, and one of the norms that the board established was that they would speak with one voice. They would speak with one voice on matters related to the school district. Board members individually don't have power on their own. They have power and they come together around the board table.

That is not the same as their inability to express an opinion. Anybody has the ability to express an opinion. But in terms of commenting on district business, the board members only can speak with that same one voice as a board and not as individuals and they've designated the superintendent, as they probably have in most school districts, as the spokesperson for the district.

So Huber states that district has a designated spokesperson but the board has "gone a step further," explaining the board agreed it would speak with "one voice." In fact, she states, "They would speak with one voice on matters related to the school district." Then she said that's not the same as the inability to express an opinion, but immediately walks back that statement by stating, "But in terms of commenting on district business, the board members only can speak with that same one voice as a board and not as individuals."

As with Schwartzott, we have repeatedly asked Huber to make a plain, clear statement about individual board speech. She hasn't even acknowledged the emails.

We started asking Schwartzott to make a clear, unambiguous statement after she objected to our May 14 story, "Five school districts in Genesee County restrict speech for board members," stating that The Batavian misrepresented her views. Even in the comment she left on the story, however, she doesn't state clearly what her views are on the topic.

In emails about that article, she said it wasn't clear to her that the story we were working on was about the rights of individual members to express their personal views, yet in the response to our initial set of questions, she said, "Community members who are interested in what the local board members have to say can attend board meetings where the members discuss issues, share their opinions, and make decisions."

In other words, the only place the public can count on to find out what board members think is at meetings.

So, we're still waiting for a clear statement from Huber and Schwartzott about the ability of school board members to not "speak with one voice" but to speak individually as they see fit.

June 22, 2018 - 8:00am

The Alexander Central School District is planning on instituting a fee structure for use of school facilities by community groups and that has a number of parents, especially parents of children who participate in sports, upset, according to Lisa Lyons, president of the Tri-Town Youth Athletics Association.

Lyons raised those concerns with the Board of Education on Tuesday night. School board meetings are generally sparsely attended and Tuesday dozens of district residents were in the auditorium for the meeting, though there's no way to say how many were there because of the fee issue.

The fees, at least as announced, would cost the association about $8,000 for football and basketball, according to Lyons (CLARIFICATION: Lyons provided a revised calculation of anticipated association costs after publication of this story) and she asked a number of questions, none of which were answered by board members after she spoke.

"As residents, we pay taxes that are among the highest in the state for a community our size," Lyons said. "Adding in $6,000 in fees, how is this not double dipping? As a nonprofit organization, these fees will close programs for us. The district parents of these children have stated this is unacceptable."

Besides Lyons, there were two other parents who signed up to speak but with the intention of ceding their allotted three-minutes to Lyons, a request Board President Reed Pettys would not allow. One parent, Mary Shepard, tried to read from notes prepared by Lyons once her three minutes were up but Lyons said after the meeting she really didn't get to express all of the concerns that have been raised to her by the parents.

Before the public comments section on the agenda, during what the board calls "roundtable," where each board member can speak on any issue they care to raise, Superintendent Catherine Huber took a few minutes to explain her view on why and how the fees are being initiated.

She said in the fall, the board appointed a committee to review and potentially rewrite the school district's facilities use policy. She said the committee was comprised of board members and school staff who are past and present parents and coaches involved with Tri-Town.

The board minutes for Oct. 18 list board members Rich Guarino, Molly Grimes, Lisa Atkinson, Shannon Whitcombe, Matt Stroud, Tim Batzel, Rob Adam, and Ben Whitmore as members of the committee. The minutes also list Board Member Brian Paris as a member of the committee but he said he declined the appointment because of other business commitments and never attended a meeting.

The policy was adopted by the board in December.

Huber said the prior policy also allowed for a use fee but no fees were ever charged.

"We believed that it was time to start charging a nominal fee to outside organizations, to community organizations to use our facilities," she said.

Huber said she has tried to communicate clearly and work collaboratively with Tri-Town, inviting Lyons in for a meeting, not only to inform them on the need for the new fee but letting them know that the district could be flexible.

"Our goal is all the same," Huber said. "Our goal is to provide a great experience for all the children of Alexander."

She called the fee nominal and said that Lyons continued the conversation in emails back and forth.

"This is the first year for fee structure, so I suggested that if what we were suggesting is not something Tri-Town could bear, I asked Tri-Town to bring to me what could be a manageable solution in terms of a facilities fee."

One issue raised by Lyons is the district's projections for the Tri-Town fees are much lower than Tri-Town's estimation of the fees, based on the documentation they've received.

Huber presented slides showing the fee structure.

The association, she said, would be charged $25 an hour for football, for example, and with four games, that would come to about $300 per game day with an annual cost of $1,200.

The district's costs, she said, is $56 an hour or $650 per game day, with a total of about $2,700 annual. That would still leave the district short its expenses by $1,520.

The cost for basketball, by Huber's numbers, would be $1,920 annually with the district's annual cost at $3,523, for a two-sport charge to the sports association of $3,120, which is less than half of what Lyons estimates it would cost the association. The association uses school facilities only for football and basketball. (CLARIFICATION: This paragraph added after initial publication).

Those numbers, she said, don't include all of the district's costs.

"I think it’s really important that we have those numbers in front of us because as a community, we all want the experience for our students but we also have to understand that it is the responsibility of the board and the administration of the school district to make sure that there are facilities for people to use," Huber said.

"This community has come to expect a certain level of facility maintenance and certain expectations of around our facilities. It would be irresponsible of the board to not have a certain cost-recovery measure in place in order to maintain those facilities long-term."

Lyons said Tri-Town is a 40-year-old organization. She doesn't know how long the association has been using school facilities but it has been many, many years, so it doesn't make sense to her why now, all the sudden, the district needs fees to maintain the facilities.

While Huber is saying the fees are in that $1,500 range (they change some, depending on the sport and facility), Lyons said based on the use application she's been provided and the belief that the two chaperones required for each event, at $18 per hour each, increase the cost, the range is closer to $6,000 per sport annually.

If that is true, use fees for parents per sport will likely double, which will lower participation and mean the end to some sports. The disparity is so great, Lyons said a counteroffer, which Huber said is welcome, is hard to even formulate.

"I understand a nominal fee," Lyons said after the meeting. "I get it. But for us to even try to offer them something at this point, the fees are so astronomical I don’t even know where to start."

One thing that bewilders Lyons and other parents who joined a conversation outside the auditorium after the meeting is the requirement for two chaperones at each event.

"If something is broken, we’ve always paid for it," Lyons said during the hallway conversation. "If something happens, we try to take care of it. If they have a complaint, they’ve come to us and said there were kids running around the school, what can we do, OK we rope it off, we have volunteers wandering the school, making sure kids are in place, so again it’s not that we’re not trying to work with them, we are to the best of our ability."

In the parking lot after the conversation with parents, Huber said the chaperones were necessary because "we want to make sure our facilities are taken care of."

Asked if there were problems in the past that made chaperones necessary, Huber would only say, "We just want to make sure our facilities are taken care of.”

We relayed those comments to Lyons in an email and she said, "I would hope that if there were any issues that came up that I would’ve been informed. To my knowledge, I don’t recall there being anything that wasn't taken care of. Most issues that had come up were 'kid issues' and handled where both parties were satisfied. Issues with any property -- I only know of two and those were taken care of at the expense of Tri-Town and its insurance."

She said one property issue was recent and the other occurred many years ago.

The fees also don't make any sense, Lyons said, because Tri-Town volunteers take care of the facilities before, during and after events.

"The school puts on varsity games on Friday night," Lyons said. "When we get here on Saturday, that field is disgusting. It was lined but we set it up. We have to empty all the garbage cans. We have to get ready. We have our game. We clean up to the best of our ability. So you’re telling me as a school they have to ingest more fees when staff would have to do it on Monday?"

She added, "It’s not fair. When you really look at it, it’s not fair."

Students going through Tri-Town athletics makes the school district better, Lyons said. She said studies show that students who learn teamwork, discipline, and other life skills through sports do better academically.

The association also prepares young athletes to compete eventually at the varsity level -- a point Shepard also made during public comments after picking up the notes from Lyons.

"We have fed your school student-athletes for years," Shepard said. "We have helped put Alexander on the map with many individual wins, sectional wins, regional wins and many patches. How many athletic scholarships have been awarded compared to academic ones?"

Debbie Green said her daughter started with Tri-Town as a cheerleader when she was 5. After four years of cheer in high school, she earned a college scholarship. That is how Tri-Town benefits the school, the kids, and the parents, she said.

Green also noted that under the new fee structure, Girl Scouts, which she is involved with, will wind up paying $100 per meeting to continue meeting at the school.

The Batavian attempted to interview school board members after the meeting to get their indivdual takes on the association's feedback on the policy but we were only able to talk with two before the rest quickly left the building.

"When I’m outside the board and I’m not in session, I’m just an individual but I don’t give interviews," said Vice President Rich Guarino.

Asked if that was because of the district's "One Voice" policy, Guarino said, "Outside of the board, we’re just individuals and I don’t give interviews for anything. I don’t answer surveys on the telephone. I don’t give interviews."

Board Member Brian Paris did answer questions.

Paris said he believes the facilities policy is a work-in-progress, that it's really still in draft form and that the board is working on it.

"I’m not on the committee to develop it, so I don’t have tremendous insight but I do know that a lot of people put a lot of time behind it," Paris said. "I know this board. It’s a very reasonable board. Our goal is not to put any student in a position where they are not able to participate in any of these activities."

Lyons, Green, and Donna McArthur, who has been with Tri-Town for 42 years, said it's expensive enough being a parent of a student-athlete. Besides fees, there's equipment, training, travel, and other expenses that add up.

For the association, there are also expenses the district may not be considering, from insurance to recertifying football helmets every three years. And, McArthur said, the association has always made sure every kid who wants to play gets to play.

“We never have a child that does not play," McArthur said. "If they can’t pay as parents, we all kick in. We find them shoes, we find them a glove, no kid has ever been turned away.”

And community members help the school district in other ways. It was community members who did the fundraising in the 2000s for Chris Martin Memorial Field of Dreams, which is used by the district's football, softball, baseball and soccer teams.

For all these reasons, Lyons said, district parents aren't happy with what they see as astronomically high use fees.

"There has to come a point where, yes, there is that collaborative conversation," Lyons said. "But as a district, these parents are pushing back because they know that this organization cannot afford those fees. As parents, with that 99.6 percent of kids who are playing who are district kids, they’re already paying for this school. They don’t want to pay any more for it."

June 13, 2018 - 10:22am

This is a transcript of an interview conducted with Catherine Huber, Ed.D., superintendent of the Alexander Central School District, on May 15. It's taken us some time to prepare the transcript for publication. It's been lightly edited for clarity.

The interview came about following publication of a story published April 25, Group of Alexander parents express frustration at how the school is handling discipline, student safety. Shortly after publication, the attorney for ACSD, Jennifer Schwartzott, e-mailed The Batavian and demanded a retraction. The Batavian did not retract the story, and the school district eventually dropped its demand for a retraction and agreed to an interview with Huber.

Context for the interview also includes the stories: Five school districts in Genesee County restrict speech for board members and NYSSBA deputy director addresses confusion about free speech rights of school board members.

Huber became superintendent of Alexander in December 2016.

THE BATAVIAN: We've heard from several parents, especially after our story a few weeks ago, who express frustration with the school district. They feel they are not being heard and they're powerless. This is more than just a few disgruntled parents. Why is this so pervasive? How did it become this way, and what changes are you making sure the parents are empowered?

CATHERINE HUBER: I just want to respond to that we listen to all concerns, questions that are brought to our attention. When I say we, I mean me, I mean teachers, building administrators, and our Board of Education. We deal with every situation that's brought to our attention and while sometimes there might not seem to be a resolution or might not be a resolution that people have all the details about does not mean that we're not responding.

TB: Is there anything you need to review that parents aren't getting -- how can you help parents feel more empowered, that they are being listened to?

CH: Do you have a specific situation that you --.

TB: Well, we're not supposed to discuss specific situations --.

CH: Correct.

TB: And, you know, there was the parents with the two meetings that had come up and then after a story posted we got so much feedback and social media emailed to me of like, "right on, finally somebody standing up for us." So, there is definitely a feeling out there that parents don't feel empowered and don't feel like they're being listened to. So, I'm wondering if there is a self-reflection of anything, anything you can do differently?

CH: I can assure you that we're always reviewing our processes and reflecting on how we conduct our business.

TB: Does it concern you to have this pop up like this?

CH: So, one of the things that is so fantastic about Alexander is that this school is the heart of the community and there is nothing like this community. This community loves its schools and there are so many outstanding things that are happening in this school every day. We have students who are successful on the stage, on the field, academically. We have community members, faculty, and staff who are engaged in all sorts of processes around the school all to make sure that people know that they have a voice in this school.

CH: One of the things that I'm most proud of, and I know that you were privy to some of this during your budget presentation last week, is that we've set up a whole system of committees. They are open to anybody -- community members, faculty, staff. We have student representatives on our committees. Some of the committees that we're working on right now, we have a capital project committee, we have members of our community, We have people from our transportation department, our administrators, our teachers, our staff, we have a student representative, who are not only talking about what we're going to be doing moving forward with our next project -- and I think you walked in through our last project, our beautiful new foyer -- but we're also talking about what's our vision for what Alexander will be in the next five or 10 years and then how our facilities can match up with that.

CH: We have community members and faculty and staff and students involved and all our hiring committees so we're about to start hiring for two of our retirements and those committees are important things that we're doing. We have our safety committee that has community members on it as well. We have a wellness committee. Again, representatives from across our community. Tim and I actually once a month meet with the mayor and the town supervisor in Alexander, again, as an opportunity to reach out to the community and to make sure that we always stay focused on the fact that this school is the heart of the community.

CH: That's what I want us to be focusing on. Our practices and the way that we communicate, the way that we are available -- those are all things that as any good professional will do. We're reflecting on all the time but what I'd really love to do is to get back to the conversation about all the great things that are happening at Alexander.

TB: I appreciate that. If there is any parent out there who feels that they haven't been heard, what would you encourage them to do?

CH: I would encourage them to follow the chain of command and the chain of command would be that you start with the classroom teacher. You move to the building administrator. If you still don't feel satisfied, you would move to the superintendent. And then, as appropriate, I could refer that to the Board of Education. That's in our policy.

CH: Being heard is not the same necessarily as getting the answer that you expect. We all know that. But I can assure you that parents are heard. Community members are heard when they reach out.

TB: Moving on, why should the board speak with one voice?

CH: The board should speak with one voice for several different reasons. The board by policy designates a spokesperson for the school district. We have that policy for you and I know that you've gathered those policies from other school districts as well and the board by policy has designated the superintendent as the spokesperson. Our board has also gone a step further. Recently we did a board retreat and the board established norms, which you also probably saw on our website, and one of the norms that the board established was that they would speak with one voice. They would speak with one voice on matters related to the school district. Board members individually don't have power on their own. They have power and they come together around the board table. That is not the same as their inability to express an opinion. Anybody has the ability to express an opinion. But in terms of commenting on district business, the board members only can speak with that same one voice as a board and not as individuals and they've designated the superintendent, as they probably have in most school districts, as the spokesperson for the district.

TB: Before this whole issue came up, I never, in 30 years of journalism come across agencies that said we must speak as one voice, that individual people are not their own independent agents who are responsible to their constituents. What you describe sounds like the kind of thing we would expect in Communist China where we all must be on the same page, people aren't allowed to dissent.

CH: You have the policies and I know you have the policies from the other school districts as well.

TB: Do your members have a right to dissent?

CH: Absolutely, they do.

TB: So why are they not allowed to speak those opinions if asked?

JENNIFER SCHWARTZOTT: That isn't what she said. She didn't say --

TB: I'm asking this, this because this has been my experience. Nobody can speak their opinions individually, from my experience in dealing with this school district. So I don't know, why that is?

CH: Can you maybe use a different word than allowed? Where are you finding that nobody can speak?

TB: That's comes from your statements and her statements to me.

JS: That is certainly not my statements as we've -- I'm not part of this interview, so if you want to ask Dr. Huber what her statements are you certainly can but she can't speak for me --

(NOTE: Since this interview, The Batavian has twice emailed Schwartzott offering her an opportunity to clarify her position. She hasn't acknowledged the emails.)

TB: When the first time I tried to talk to you the clear message as we speak with only one voice.

CH: Correct.

TB: Which is negating dissent or individuals’ views.

CH: It's in keeping with our policy. An important thing to keep in mind, too, is that one of the central jobs of a Board of Education is that they get to approve a policy. So, Boards of Education approve the policy that talks about things like who is the spokesperson for the board.

Continued after the jump (click "read more" below or the headline):

May 5, 2018 - 10:53am

The commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Alexander is on a mission to get the Alexander School District to reconsider implementing a tax exemption for Cold War veterans.

Eric Radder spoke at Wednesday's school board meeting.

"I notice we’ve got all four service flags up here, so obviously Alexander supports its veterans," Radder said. "I’m here to discuss and implement it and bring it back as a point of discussion."

Several tax jurisdictions in the county have adopted the exemption, including the Town of Alexander and the Village of Alexander. 

Qualified veterans who apply can get an exemption on a small portion of the assessed value of their property. The typical exemption is 10 percent off the accessed value with a maximum of $6,000 exempt from the jurisdiction's property tax. In Alexander, both the town and village adopted the higher tier exemption, which is 15 percent off the accessed value with a maximum exemption of $12,000.

More than two years ago, the school district held two public forums on the proposed exemption. The first forum, said Board President Reed Pettys, was lightly attended because of a snowstorm. The next forum had 30 to 40 people attend, Pettys said, and the public was evenly divided between support and opposition.

While the perception is that the Alexander School Board voted against the exemption, Pettys said since the community was divided on the topic, the board just never took the issue up again.

Pettys agreed Wednesday night to go with another board member to the VFW's board meeting Thursday to publicly discuss the proposal again.

He said a lot has changed since the board last considered the idea -- there are two or three new board members, including one -- John Slenker  -- who is a veteran and more jurisdictions, including other school districts, have passed it.

"I think we’ll discuss it at the next meeting and see if we can get a public forum," Pettys said.

The exemption, Radder said, would help keep veterans in the community.

"You could retain the veterans who bring a set of values that they learned in their military training experience and then in return benefit the community at large," Radder said.

May 4, 2018 - 3:19pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Alexander Central School District, alexander, schools, news, notify.

A reduction in state aid for the Alexander Central School District is contributing to the district's need to raise property taxes by 38 cents per thousand of assessed value for 2018-19 even though overall spending will be reduced from this academic year.

Voters in the district will be asked to approve the proposed budget May 15.

The district is asking to spend $17,704,810 next fiscal year, a reduction in operational spending of $293,367.

State financial aid, which makes up more than half the district's budget, is being reduced by $193,685. Building aid is being reduced as well by $565,851.

The proposed tax levy, the total amount collected through property taxes, is $6,159,675, compared to $6,050,850 this year, an increase of $108,825.

That levy would put the property tax rate at $21.51, or 38 cents more than this year, per thousand of accessed value.

Catherine Huber, Ed.D., superintendent of schools, said the budget is responsible and meets the needs of students.

"We always, of course, focus on developing fiscally responsible budgets," Huber said. "To talk a little bit about a fiscally responsible budget and the things we were able to do with our last budget. With that budget, we were able to maintain staff and programs.

"With that budget we were able to build capacity in our school district by bringing on a school social worker, by bringing on an ESL teacher to build the capacity for when students come to us with varied needs their needs can be met."

With the proposed budget, the district will also be able to build capacity.

"If anybody was at our last board meeting, you heard about the expansion of our agriculture program," Huber said. "It's an exciting expansion for Alexander. We also are proposing the addition of an instrumental music teacher. Did you know that we have 300 students in grades four through 12 -- out of 800 students in the school system -- (who) participate in music?

"We just had a sampling tonight of what the quality of our programming is, so to expand that program is something we can sustain over time and something we're really proud of."

A key proposal in the budget is the addition of a school resource officer. An SRO is a member of law enforcement -- in this case, a deputy from the Sheriff's Office -- who is posted at a school full time throughout the school year.

Sheriff William Sheron attended Wednesday's public hearing and encouraged voters to approve the proposal.

He said in this day and age, an SRO isn't a "nice to have." It is a "must have."

"The officer protects the individuals here, the students, the faculty, the visitors that come in here," Sheron said. "He will interact with all the children. He will also be a mentor with the children in the school."

The SRO program has worked out very well at BOCES and Byron-Bergen Central School, Sheron said.

"The SRO is a resource for children go to when they don’t feel comfortable going to a teacher or an aide," Sheron said. "You create those relationships and those children will come to you. They’ll have faith in you. They’ll have confidence in you and they’ll share things with that officer that they wouldn’t share with anybody else."

Some budget highlights:

  • Regular classroom spending increases from $4,829,106 to $4,977,365;
  • Special education and vocational education spending is up from $2,868,973 to 2,920,888;
  • Athletics increases from $436,585 to $532,316;
  • Transportation increases from $776,134 to $818,087;
  • Maintenance for building and grounds decreases from $321,575 to $278,058;
  • Central administration spending will increase from $167,612 to $190,048;
  • School administration will increase from $585,069 to $609,329.

Tim Batzel, the district's finance director, said at Wednesday's hearing that in June the district will make its final payment on a $17.9 million bond that was financed in 1998 primarily for addition of the Middle School. As a result, next year's budget reflects a 66-percent ($530,000) drop in bond payments and a 21-percent drop in interest payments ($23,303).

Lighting upgrades continue to reduce the cost of utilities, Batzel said, and for the second year in a row, the district is benefiting from a 9- to 10-percent reduction in workers' compensation insurance.

After the hearing, during what the board calls "the roundtable," Board Member John Slenker made a statement with an apparent reference to recent school board meetings where multiple parents used public comments to voice complaints and concerns about child safety issues and whether the Code of Conduct is fairly applied. The story was reported by The Batavian.

"I would just like to remind parents that the school board is a very important function," Slenker said. "It is also voluntary. We’re not paid. The people who sit up here take the safety and education of your children very seriously. We have 15 current, future and former children among us. The other part I would like to say, it’s been an absolute honor serving with Reed Pettys and working with Catie. They are some of the best people I have ever met."

Pettys, currently board president, is stepping down following the completion of his term in June.

  • Besides the budget, there are four other ballot measures for voters to consider May 15:
  • Proposition #2: Authorize the purchase of two school buses at a cost of $305,470.
  • Proposition #3: Purchase a new marquee sign for the front of the school at a cost of $29,595.
  • Proposition #4 and Proposition #5: Establish capital reserve funds.

There is also one open seat on the school board up for election and only one declared candidate. The candidate is Sara Fernaays. The Batavian attempted to interview Fernaays after Wednesday's meeting. We wanted to ask her thoughts on the budget, the SRO, and other issues and Fernaays declined. She said she feared granting an interview would cause trouble with the school district.

The school district has a policy that prohibits school board members from speaking individually with reporters.

April 27, 2018 - 5:56pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Alexander Central School District, alexander, news, notify.

This afternoon, the Alexander Central School District released a statement to the community addressing concerns raised by parents in the district about school safety issues and how the Code of Conduct is enforced and implemented.

The statement also notifies the community that the district had already set aside money in the proposed 2018-19 school budget to hire a School Resource Officer (SRO).

The budget vote is May 15 and the district will hold a public hearing on the budget proposal next Wednesday, May 2.

Sheriff William Sheron has made it a priority to convince all local school districts to hire SROs.

"I'm very happy they made this decision," Sheron said. "It has been my position SROs should be in every school. There is no price we can put on our children's lives. I'm thrilled about the budget proposal and now we will let the voters decide."

The statement comes two days after publication of a story by The Batavian covering concerns raised by parents at two school board meetings about issues of concern.

Dear Alexander Community,

Student safety and well-being are top priorities at Alexander Central School District. Our work each day focuses on creating the conditions for students to thrive. We are committed to ensuring all of our students walk through their school days in a safe, structured, and caring environment as they strive to grow as confident, contributing learners. That commitment is our mission and drives our goals as a District.

Alexander is a wonderful community filled with caring families and remarkable children. The District provides outstanding opportunities in the classroom, in athletics, in the arts, and in clubs/organizations for all of our students. Our District is a great place for children to learn every day. Our community cares. Central to who we are as a community is our unwavering commitment to all of our students. As a District, we welcome feedback from students, parents, and community members on all matters relating to how we are meeting the needs of our students and how the District is functioning in alignment with our mission and our goals. When a student, parent, or community member reaches out to our teachers, administrators, and Board members, the concerns shared are taken seriously and acted upon as appropriate.

Recently, District administrators and our Board of Education have heard from parents regarding their concerns about the District’s commitment to student safety and well-being as well as how the District is applying the Code of Conduct.

The Code of Conduct provides a framework for our disciplinary processes when student conduct does not meet the expectations outlined in the Code. It is important to keep in mind that the details of any situation that may result in disciplinary consequences are complex, specific, and confidential. The District is not free to share the details related to specific student discipline or consequences - especially with parents and community members who are not the parent of the child involved. In fact, the District is legally bound to keep all of these matters confidential. We take that obligation seriously. Be assured, however, the fact that the District cannot provide the community with details relating to specific disciplinary consequences does not mean that the District is not taking action nor does it mean the District is not upholding the Code of Conduct. We work diligently to investigate all situations in which a student’s conduct is alleged to violate the Code and impose consequences consistent with our findings.

In responding to recent concerns expressed by parents and community members, the District’s unwavering commitment to confidentiality has put it at a bit of a disadvantage, particularly because others are not bound by the same legal requirements regarding confidentiality. In fact, some community members have questioned the District’s commitment to confidentiality and have even suggested the District was acting improperly by not sharing details of certain situations involving the District’s students. Our legal obligation and moral commitment to confidentiality should not be construed as the District being non-transparent or non-responsive. We are merely doing what we are legally and ethically obligated to do. While District administrators and our Board of Education are not at liberty to share the details of every situation that is brought to our attention, please know that does not mean that we are not committed to student safety and well-being. As a community, we must remember our commitment to each other and to our students, even when we disagree or question certain disciplinary consequences.

Our District administrators and our Board of Education have used the recent feedback from members of the community as an opportunity to reflect on our practices. In fact, conversations we started last spring with the Sheriff’s office regarding the possibility of adding a school resource officer (SRO) at Alexander CSD were reinforced by our current community conversation about student safety. The addition of an SRO is part of our 2018-19 budget proposal. We continue to welcome feedback. Through feedback, we continue to grow as a District.

As always, thank you for your support as we work to create the conditions for all students to thrive. Even when we disagree and even when all of the details of every situation cannot be shared, we always have our love for our District and our commitment to our students in common. Let's continue to work together to make sure our community remains strong and that we continue to move the work of our District forward.

With thanks~
Dr. Catherine Huber

October 13, 2016 - 2:40pm

Press release:

The Alexander Central School District’s Board of Education (BOE) has named two finalists for the district’s next Superintendent.

Reed Pettys, president of the Alexander Central School District’s BOE, said he is pleased with the high-quality candidate pool and is enthused about the potential the two finalists have to offer.

“Our district has a great reputation in the educational community and the Board anticipates a difficult decision, with superior candidates in contention," Pettys said. "We are eager to find a strong individual who believes in our district’s mission and is an educational expert who can guide our schools into the future."

The two finalists are Teresa Gerchman and Catherine Huber, Ed.D.

Gerchman is currently the Chief Schools Officer for Innovative Schools in Wilmington, Del., a position she’s held since 2014. Gerchman served as the Director of Achievement in both the Northeast and Pacific Regions for Edison Learning Inc. from 2006 until 2014. During her tenure with Edison Learning, she led a team as part of the Hawaii Alliance where she supported the restructuring of nine schools and provided focused support to increase student performance levels.

In her role as Academy Director for the Charter School of Science and Technology in Rochester, Gerchman was responsible for 1,110 students in grades K-8. Her career includes serving as Curriculum and Assessment Director for the Charter School of Science and Technology, Science and Technology Teacher Leader for Spencerport Central Schools, and math and science teacher for Spencerport Central Schools and Beacon High School. In 1987, Gerchman began her work in education as math and science teacher for Seton Catholic Central High School in Binghamton.

She holds a Bachelor of Science from the State University College at Buffalo, and a Master of Science in Secondary Chemistry/General Science from the State University College at Cortland. Gerchman earned a Certificate of Advanced Study in Educational Administration from The College at Brockport.

Huber presently serves as the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources for Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda (Ken-Ton) Union Free School District. She previously served as Director of Secondary Education for Ken-Ton Union Free School District. Huber was the Director for the Center for Professional Studies for D’Youville College from 2013-2015. She spent eight years as Principal of Northwood Elementary School in West Seneca Central School District. Huber served as the Coordinator of K-12 English Language Arts for Frontier Central School District.

From 1999-2002, she was responsible for staff and curriculum development at Erie 1 BOCES. Her teaching experience is vast and ranges from middle school to college-level. Huber taught at Canisius College as an adjunct professor in the Graduate Program. She started her career in education in 1996 as a middle school English teacher in the Iroquois Central School District.

Huber holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Ithaca College; a dual Master of Science degree in Educational Leadership and English Education from Canisius College; and a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership from D’Youville College.

The finalists will visit the district on Oct. 17 and 18. Gerchman will visit on Oct. 17 and Huber on October 18. Meet-and-greet forums, which are open to the public, will be held each day at Alexander Middle-High School in the auditorium from 3:40-4:15 p.m. Final interviews with stakeholder groups and the BOE will follow the meet and greet forums. The anticipated start date for the new Superintendent is Jan. 2.

Kevin MacDonald, district superintendent of the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership, who is acting as search consultant, said the Board has developed and implemented a process that will help determine the best candidate.

“This is a rigorous search process,” MacDonald said. “Finalists will visit at the district, and go through another round of interviews. The process concludes with the Board meeting to make a final decision.”

July 13, 2016 - 5:21pm
posted by Billie Owens in alexander, Alexander Central School District, news.

Press release:

Picone Construction has begun Alexander Central School District’s $6.8 million capital improvement project, which addresses energy efficiency upgrades, health and safety improvements, and site work at both the elementary and middle/high schools.

Alexander Elementary School improvements involve the reconstruction and/or replacement of: flooring, exterior masonry, mechanical systems, electrical components, hazardous materials, playground equipment and associated site work, pavement, drainage, and miscellaneous other repairs.

Alexander Middle/High School work includes the reconstruction and/or replacement of: roofing systems, pool area and system components, interior and exterior masonry, egress pathways, mechanical systems, electrical components, hazardous materials, running track and associated site work, pavement, drainage, and miscellaneous other repairs.

The architect of record is SEI Design Group.

Picone Construction Corp. has been providing Professional Construction Services to the Western New York area since 1931. The firm specializes in design / build, general contracting, and construction management services.

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