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November 12, 2022 - 8:10am
posted by Joanne Beck in news, City Schools, Board of Education.


Just as Americans across the country are eager to hit the road for post-COVID travel, Batavia City Schools staff has wanderlust in mind for student trips.

From a chorus trip to New York City and a student excursion to see the inner workings of Washington, D.C., to a competitive journey in an effort to secure a hockey championship in Albany, the trips will be up for review during the board’s meeting next week.

It’s set for 6 p.m. Monday in the Superintendent’s Conference Room at the high school, 260 State St., Batavia.

Teacher Melanie Case is proposing that the Mixed and Treble Chorus take a two-day trip in April 2023. This will give students an opportunity “to perform in a major city, to see a professional musical on Broadway and also to view major historical landmarks, providing a connection with the eighth grade social studies immigration unit,” her supporting materials state.

If approved, the students will not only see the Statue of Liberty, but also perform a cappella style (though still pending), and walk to see the 9/11 Memorial, have dinner at Margaritaville and watch a live theater performance. An estimated cost of about $420 per student is based on a minimum of 40 people registered with First Choice Educational Tours.

A Close-Up trip is proposed by Alex Veltz for six days in Washington, D.C. in March 2023. This program has given students “an in-depth look at the U.S. government and current issues" since it was formed in 1971, according to the supplemental material. Not merely a sight-seeing tour, this program offers learning experiences, workshops, interactive discussions and presentations.

Cost per student is $2,200, with Genesee Valley BOCES paying 60 percent, and students responsible for about $1,000 each,  materials state.

Coaches Marc Staley and John Kirkwood are pitching a trip for the Albany Academy Holiday Tournament. This two-day trip is for Batavia Notre Dame hockey team (United) to play a game on each of the two days, and hopefully ending as a tournament winner.

There will be "no cost for the school with bussing or hotel expenses," organizers said. 

Student fundraisers have begun to offset expenses, including sponsorships, community discount cards and restaurant donations.

Appointments, work change orders and contracts fill most of the remaining agenda.

File Photo of a United hockey player earlier this year, by Howard Owens.

August 30, 2022 - 8:45pm
posted by Joanne Beck in news, City Schools, Board of Education, notify, batavia.


City school board members went back to school Monday evening.

They took a tour of the work-in-progress at Robert Morris — closed a decade ago as an elementary site — which will now be operating in full force this year for pre-school and universal pre-kindergarten students after a $225,000 investment so far.

“Pre-school numbers have almost doubled,” Superintendent Jason Smith said during a presentation before the tour. “We had a hard time finding programs to service these students.”

A Little History
District officials decided to close Robert Morris Elementary School in 2012 after it was deemed a savings measure and more efficient to consolidate and students and teachers at to Jackson Primary and John Kennedy Intermediate. The building was used either for district needs (public relations, information technology), or rented out to various organizations, including BOCES, a daycare, 56 Harvester Center, and Arc.

Pre-school numbers began to rise, and the need for space rose with them, Smith said. That resulted in rethinking the use of Robert Morris. After receiving comments that Jackson Primary was getting pretty tight due to increased enrollments, the district bumped up first grade’s eight sections to 10, which then created a need for additional space at Jackson. Four UPK sections are therefore being moved to Robert Morris.

Current Times
Using state funding and grant monies, the new offerings have shifted the physical and philosophical layout of Robert Morris at the corner of Union Street and Richmond Avenue. As Trisha Finnigan, executive director of staff development and operations, said, “we’re using every nook and cranny” of the three-floor building to make the best use of all areas.


The main entrance will be on the east side of the school next to the parking lot, and children will exit on the opposite side at a bus loop. Classrooms are being reconfigured, including a former library, and Community Schools hours will align with the presence of security aides.

There will be five classes to support a total of 64 students in preschool for preschoolers with disabilities who will receive services in a self-contained setting and an integrated classroom with general education students. These students can be three years old for the entire school year and require more intensive interventions through special education.

Board member Alice Benedict asked Finnigan if they’ve considered labeling it something other than preschool since it is so similar to UPK ages.

“We try to be very cognizant of calling it a special education program because there are those two school classrooms also that have general education students, so we don't want people to think that they'd be getting something different than other classrooms,” Finnigan said. “And we'd like to be inclusive when we talk about what we're doing. So it is kind of nice to know that they're not just here alone. Right? They may have been if we hadn’t done this.”


A UPK grant of $672,719 funds up to 112 students — 72 full-day and 40 half-day slots. The district has a waiting list for parents that want full days for their children, and “we are applying for an expansion grant that would convert half-day slots to a full-day slot,” Smith said.

The district is working with Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties to support the regional need for preschool students, and there are 28 enrolled in special education at Robert Morris.

A current Student Transition And Recovery (STAR) program has been moved to the third floor, and the cafeteria has been reopened and prepped to provide meals in classrooms and cafeteria style, Smith said. There has been deep cleaning of the kitchen and cafeteria space, a review of the status of equipment and electrical/plumbing infrastructures, and purchases or upgrades of necessary equipment and supplies.

New staff includes four UPK, seven preschool teachers and 11 teacher aides, plus related service providers for occupational, speech and physical therapies; school resource officer, nurse, administrative, custodial and security aide support. The board approved those new positions during Monday’s regular meeting as part of a long list of additional staff for elementary, middle and high schools.

Security aides, many of whom are retired police officers, are throughout the district for extra safety measures, Smith said. They will provide 15 hours a week at Robert Morris, plus the presence of a school resource officer.

Cost of Change
To date, the district has spent $225,000 to get RM up and running, Business Administrator Scott Rozanski said.

Within that total:

  • $93,000 will be funded by a UPK grant for classroom furniture and interactive boards;
  • $20,000 to be funded by a School Lunch Fund for a dishwasher, garbage disposal, refrigerator and various carts; and
  • $112,000 from the General Fund for carpeting, cabling, a copier, classroom furniture, desks, chairs, intercom, dehumidifier, public address system and emergency lighting upgrades. 

Registration has been moved from the Robert Morris site to the high school administrative wing to reduce foot traffic, and an administrative office will be available on site near the UPK entrance.

Other work performed has included upgraded cabling, interactive boards, cleaning out storage areas, and transferring viable furniture from Jackson to Robert Morris. Walls have been patched, painted and/or repaired in class and bathrooms, carpeting has been replaced, air and asbestos tests conducted in the basement and library, a new intercom and telephone lines installed, and assorted repairs made to vents, plumbing fixtures, and electrical components and new water lines added as needed.

The first day of school is Sept. 7 for all students.







Top photo: City school board member Alice Benedict, left, Superintendent Jason Smith, and board members John Reigle, Jenn Lendvay and Korinne Anderson begin their tour at the east entrance of Robert Morris Monday evening. Trisha Finnigan, executive director of staff development and operations, walks the group through several pre-school and UPK classrooms, and an integrated services room for occupational, speech and physical therapy, shown, as Board President John Marucci takes a peek over a makeshift wall. Photos by Joanne Beck.


August 30, 2022 - 8:16am
posted by Joanne Beck in news, batavia, Board of Education, hockey, notify.


Marc Staley and John Kirkwood, representing Notre Dame and Batavia high schools, respectively, made a pitch — or more accurately, a shot attempt — Monday to the city school board to establish a modified hockey team.

After noticing the number of younger students not qualified for Varsity or Junior Varsity teams, the coaches agreed that there would be enough students for a modified program, they said.

"And we can incorporate these kids already into our summer lifting program into the platform app, and also in our GroupMe app, in which we communicate with them … just to really let the kids know like, even though they're not necessarily in the program right now, that we're aware of them, we want to help start developing them,” Staley said. “And we've seen just tremendous participation from seventh and eighth graders all summer long. Now, I know they're a little younger, they don't have summer jobs and stuff like that, like some of the older kids do. But the numbers really would support a modified program.”

They had originally tallied 16 players and then found two more, a goaltender and a girl hockey player, which lends well to prep for the fastest growing collegiate sport in the country, he said, of women’s hockey.

A fee of $1,800 to cover games and referees would amount to about $100 per athlete, Staley said, not including transportation. A modified program would not compete with youth hockey, though it does “bump up against spring season,” he said.

“We don’t think it’s going to cause much of a problem with schedules,” he said.

Modified teams have one color, and this one would likely be either royal blue or white. The cost of those would be covered by the hockey boosters, he said.

There are 14 modified teams that play in Buffalo, and none in Rochester, he said. There would need to be some practices before they go and play, he said, so “there would be some expense there … less than $1,000.”

Notre Dame would share the cost, and “everything is broken down by kid,” Staley said. Eighth-graders are eligible to try out for junior varsity, however, they must pass a fitness test to do so, Kirkwood said.

“And we don't want to get in a situation where we have an eighth grader who either doesn't pass the test or may not be ready physically for the physicality of a JV team. So to have this option softens the level of effort kids who may not make the JV as an eighth grader but may be a great player,” he said. “So we're trying to mirror some of the most successful programs that are here and saying is this something that we can offer? The only other additional expense would be, maybe before these kids are all going to be in shape, they're going to just play a full hockey season. And they're going to be I think excited to come together for like a little mini-season.”

There are no more league fees, Staley said, which saves thousands of dollars, and “we run a gate now,” which should total $10,000 of admission coming into the program. They have fundraisers for those “soft goods” of gloves, shells and similar needed accessories, and have emphasized the idea of community service, Staley said. Of the 41 kids in Varsity and Junior Varsity, 28 worked at least three hours each at the annual Crossroads garage sale, loading and unloading merchandise.

“I’m a firm believer that, (and tells the kids) if you want the community to come to your games, you better get out there,” he said.

This past year students put in a collective 400 hours of service, “and counting,” he said. He and Kirkwood, a city school district teacher, have challenged the kids to reach 1,000 hours next year. It goes hand-in-hand with playing sports, which would be enhanced by a modified team, he said.

“We think this will be a great step in the right direction, and really give these young kids something to get excited about,” he said.

In his written proposal to the board, Staley offered to be coach of the "United Mod Squad" program without any compensation, as he feels it is part of his role as head coach of the United hockey program. Modified games would be played at Harbor Centre in Buffalo, and go from March 6 through April 23, 2023.

The puck apparently slid into the net. Board members John Marucci, Alice Benedict, Jean Lendvay, Barbara Bowman, Chezeray Rolle, John Reigle, and Korinne Anderson unanimously approved the request.

Photo: John Kirkwood, left, and Marc Staley present their plan to establish a modified hockey program for Batavia City Schools and Notre Dame High School. Photo by Joanne Beck.

August 30, 2022 - 8:05am
posted by Joanne Beck in news, City Schools, Comptroller, Board of Education.

boe_alice_ann_benedict_1.jpegFollowing her assumption that city school district residents may be holding the board responsible for a state audit citing missing equipment and unnecessary spending, former Board of Education President Alice Benedict wanted to clear the air Monday.

While she reads district policies, she may not read every policy, Benedict said, but more to the point, she thought the district was on top of equipment inventories and related service fees.

“I thought the district was keeping track … and then we found out that it wasn’t,” Benedict said during the board’s meeting at Batavia High School. “I think there are some things in the district that we are making assumptions about. It was assumptions I made that it was being taken care of.”

Superintendent Jason Smith had previously issued a press release listing the state

Comptroller's findings, including nearly 300 pieces of technology equipment that were missing or otherwise unaccounted for, and a related $17,000 service fee paid for those items. 

She didn’t want any one board member to feel it was his or her fault, Benedict said.

Board President John Marucci, along with Smith, answered questions from The Batavian that were published earlier Monday. Marucci pointed to his comments in that article about feeling disappointed in the findings and encouraged by Smith's response.

“I was not happy with it at all,” Marucci said.

He also said that he has the “utmost faith” in Smith and district staff to take the appropriate corrective measures to stop this type of thing from happening again.

Smith said that systems are in place and that by working with a third-party consultant, the district is developing a plan of action to remedy those procedures that either were not in place or fell through the cracks, especially during personnel changeovers and COVID protocols.

The consultant — Webster-Szanyi law firm — was selected out of five proposals at a net cost of $8,753.13 to the district after BOCES aid was deducted. The Batavian submitted a question to Smith about the total aid received.

The law firm is providing the district with two educational consultants who specialize in school technology service reviews, Smith said. Work has already begun, and is to be finished by January, he said.

Here is the prior announcement about the audit from Smith.

July 14, 2022 - 8:35pm

July is the time for reorganization, and that means newly elected board leaders — and one new position — for some of the eight public school districts in Genesee County. These changes are in effect from July 1 to June 30, 2023.

Alexander Central School: Brian Paris will continue as president, and Molly Grimes, sworn in for her second five-year term, was elected vice president, Superintendent Jared Taft said.

For more information about the Board of Education, go to: Alexander 

Batavia City School District: John Marucci went from vice president to president, and John Reigle was elected as vice president during the board’s meeting on July 7. Newly elected member Korinne Anderson will fill the vacancy left by Michelle Hume.

For more information about the city’s Board of Education, go to Batavia  

Byron-Bergen Central School:  According to the district’s website, Debra List is president and Yvonne Ace-Wagoner, vice president.

For more information about the board, go to Byron-Bergen 

Elba Central School: Michael Riner was elected as president and Travis Torrey as vice president, said District Clerk Donna Harris.

New board member Mercy Caparco filled a vacancy left by longtime board member Michael Augello, who had served 10 years on the board as a member and president.

For more information about the board, go to Elba   

Le Roy Central School: Superintendent Merritt Holly reported that Jackie Whiting was elected as president and Rich Lawrence for vice president.

For more information about the board, go to Le Roy

Oakfield-Alabama Central School: Justin Staebell remains as president and Jackie Yunker Davis as vice president, Superintendent John Fisgus said.

There is a bit of news for the district’s board, though, he said. A new position was approved as part of the budget vote in May.

“For the first time in Oakfield-Alabama, we do have a student ex-officio board member that sits on our board as a student body representative,” Fisgus said. “His name is Aiden Warner, and he will be going into his senior year here.”

For more information about the board, go to Oakfield-Alabama 

Pavilion Central School: According to the district’s website, Marirose Ethington was elected president and Jeff Finch as vice president.

For more information about the board, go to Pavilion  

Pembroke Central School: John Cima was re-elected as president and Ed Levinstein as vice president, Superintendent Matthew Calderon said.

For more information about the board, go to Pembroke


July 13, 2022 - 8:10am
posted by Joanne Beck in news, City Schools, Board of Education, notify.

John Marucci has a message for his district citizens.

He is an open book, he says. And the newly elected Batavia City Schools board president intends to lead the board with a commitment to “honesty and transparency.” That means don’t be afraid to contact him when necessary.


“Please reach out to me should you have any questions or concerns. I’m here to assist the members of the district in any way I can,” he said to The Batavian. “I’ve lived in Batavia for eight years and absolutely love this community. I look forward to serving you in this new capacity.”

What do you see as priorities for the board president?
My priorities as BCSD Board of Education president include ensuring that Superintendent (Jason) Smith and our school administration have everything they need to successfully execute the programs and initiatives outlined in our recently passed budget,” Marucci said. “I’m proud to work alongside my fellow BOE members, who are very committed to supporting the BCSD and doing what's best for our students, staff and community.”

Marucci was recently sworn into his new role, which officially began July 1. Each board term runs through June 30 of the following year. This is Marucci’s second three-year term, and it expires in 2025. He will be coming in as the board leader with prior experience as the vice president for a year. As 2022 progresses onward toward 2023, he looks forward to working through the budget process and planning for the future, he said.

He’s also excited to be able “to work in a closer capacity with Superintendent Smith,” he said, adding that he thinks Smith was a “fantastic hire” who is going to do great things for the city school district.

“I think he's done a phenomenal job during his first few months with us and I can't wait to see what he does in the future,” Marucci said.

What goals would you like to set for the board and its role with the district for this next year?
“The BCSD BOE actually sets our goals collectively each fall,” he said. “We have an upcoming retreat planned where we'll all come together a


nd collaborate on what we hope to prioritize for the upcoming school year.”

Marucci has been a resident of Batavia since July of 2014. Three of his children are Batavia High School graduates and a son is in the Class of 2025 at the school. Marucci has served on the Batavia Bulldawgs Board and as a coach for seven years. He is a recipient of the Jim Ellegate Memorial Award by The Niagara / Orleans Football Association for “The Love  of the Game and More Importantly The Love of Children." He previously served as the head coach for the BCSD Modified Wrestling Team and also assisted in coaching Batavia Little Devils Youth Wrestling Club. 

Giving credit where it's due
Aside from his own personal and professional goals, Marucci wants to thank former board President Alice Ann Benedict for her leadership during the last two years. Being a veteran board member who also served on the board for several years before this stint, Benedict provided an education for other members, he said.

“She is a seasoned member of the Board of Education, and I certainly learned a lot about being president by sitting beside her. I was always impressed with how she ran meetings, how professional she was, and (how) she presented herself and the district,” he said. “I’m extremely happy that she has another year with us on her current term, where she'll continue to be able to contribute her knowledge and passion for education and the district.” 


Benedict’s term is up on June 30, 2023. Member John Reigle, whose term is up in 2024, was voted in as vice president during the group’s recent reorganizational meeting. 

Reigle was appointed to the board in August 2020 to fill a vacancy.  He and his wife, Ashlee, have three children – one who graduated in 2020, another who attends BHS, and one who attends John Kennedy Intermediate.

A lifelong Batavia resident, he earned a football scholarship to South Dakota Tech upon his graduation from BHS, and he played there for three years, studying business before returning home. He is currently the manager of Timebuyer Auto Sales and has remained active in youth sports as a founding member and commissioner of the Batavia Bulldawgs Youth Football and Cheer program. 

Reigle believes that, with his relationships with the district families, teachers, and faculty members, that "I will contribute towards the continued success of our district both academically as well as with our extracurricular activities such as athletics, arts, and music," he said. 

March 4, 2022 - 11:13am
posted by Joanne Beck in news, COVID-19, City Schools, Board of Education, notify.

Batavia City School District's Board of Education met early this morning to take a vote on making face masks optional per New York State Governor Kathy Hochul's decision to rescind the mask mandate earlier this week.

In just under three minutes, a resolution citing that "The Governor of the State of New York and the Commissioner of Health declared that face coverings are no longer mandated to be universally worn in school buildings in New York State effective March 2, 2022" was approved. The vote received a unanimous yes by board members John Reigle, Barbara Bowman, Jennifer Lendvay, Chezeray Rolle and John Marucci.

The only item of business conducted during the meeting was the vote "regarding modification of COVID-19 measures." 

The meeting is available on YouTube at:  



February 16, 2022 - 7:55am

Pembroke Central School’s regular board meeting on Feb. 22 has been canceled, however, an impromptu meeting has been scheduled for this week, Superintendent Matthew Calderon says.

The original meeting was scheduled during the board’s reorganizational session this past July. It was more recently deemed unnecessary due to no “pressing business," Calderon said to The Batavian on Monday.

An Unexpected “more pressing issue" arose, he said Tuesday, prompting a special board meeting to be set for 7 p.m. Thursday at the district office, corner of routes 5 and 77. 

“Basically, we recently had a bid opening for our ADA/BCS capital project, and the board needs to award the bids sooner than later in order to start the project on time,” Calderon said. “That is the main reason for the meeting, and we will also approve a few other items.”

The capital project stems from Americans with Disabilities Act and Building Conditions Survey (ADA/BCS) issues. A meeting agenda is to be posted on the district’s website by Wednesday, he said.

For more information, go to: https://www.pembrokecsd.org/page/board-of-education-home-page

February 7, 2022 - 8:15pm

As a state mask mandate for schools creeps toward its Feb. 21 expiration date, at least one Genesee County school plans to be officially armed.

Oakfield-Alabama Central School has set an emergency Board of Education meeting this week to vote on a resolution regarding masks in schools. The meeting is at 6:45 a.m. Wednesday at the Junior-Senior High School, 7001 Lewiston Road. 

“We’re waiting on a final determination about whether it will be extended or lifted,” Superintendent John Fisgus said to The Batavian Monday. “There’s a lot of advocacy out there …we want some type of end goal in preparation for the possibility for the mandate to be lifted. Our board wants to be proactive. When and if it’s lifted, we will be prepared when it's lifted. Masking will be optional.”

At the beginning of this year, the choice for masking was “split down the middle,” Fisgus said. That has shifted.

“An overwhelming majority want it to be a personal choice,” he said. “I’m not advocating for masks; I’m advocating for personal choice. In the last month or so there’s been a huge movement to lift the mandate and let people decide on their own.” 

The board's resolution reads, in part: “The Board of Education seeks to allow parents and students the freedom to choose whether to wear a mask indoors on school property or on a school bus.” It will give the superintendent the executive power necessary to implement protocols and procedures which allow parents and students the freedom to choose whether or not to wear a mask within and on school property. 

This move also includes the authority to modify school protocols “if the need arises due to future health concerns, emergency situations and/or necessary means for the health and safety of students and school staff alike.”

Oakfield-Alabama was one of eight Genesee County public school districts to sign a letter for New York State Governor Kathy Hochul requesting that each district be granted authority to create and enforce its own COVID-19 rules, rather than being told what to do by the state. 

Batavia City Schools Superintendent Jason Smith sent the letter on behalf of Alexander, Byron-Bergen, Elba, Le Roy, Oakfield-Alabama, Pavilion, and Pembroke school districts. Although there’s been a strong focus on whether or not to wear masks, the letter did not have that emphasis, Smith said. 

“It’s not just about masks, it’s how schools are run,” he said. “I’d say for every 10 emails, at least eight are for local control about the masks, and are strongly opposed to the mask mandate. We’re engaged in conversations, and listening to the parents and to the medical folks. We’ll be ready when the time comes to have a plan.”

The state mandate is set to expire on Feb. 21. Batavia’s Board of Education meeting may be a venue for further discussions, Smith said. It’s set for 6 p.m. Feb. 17 at Batavia High School’s library, 260 State St., Batavia. 

In other school news, Le Roy Central and Pembroke Central school districts have board meetings this week. Le Roy’s meeting is at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Wolcott Street Elementary School memorial auditorium and includes a budget presentation for the 2022-23 school year.

Likewise, Pembroke’s agenda includes a budget presentation for its meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Jr/Sr High School Library Media Center, routes 5 and 77 in Corfu.

December 17, 2021 - 8:10am
posted by Joanne Beck in news, City Schools, Board of Education, Bullying, TikTok.


Batavia High School senior and school board student representative Kylie Tatarka prepared board members Thursday that there were both positive and negative items in her monthly report. 

The positive was that many school activities — high school football games, boy and girl swim teams, a production of Sherlock Holmes — “have been very successful,” Tatarka said. 

“And now, due to the pamphlet,” she said during the board’s December meeting at BHS. “Students have expressed a lack of safety due to that situation, which was addressed by our administration.”

That “situation” was two weeks ago, when some students, who were frustrated by what they believed was inaction to bullying by the district, created written materials and began to organize a walk-out. Social media buzzed with comments as the school ended up closing for a day following the perceptions of threats of violence and after the distribution of those materials. The district closed Dec. 3 after reports of threats of violence at buildings in the district began circulating on social media.

On the plus side, high school counselors visited classrooms to understand how students have been feeling, Tatarka said, and how the district could potentially make them feel safer. 

“This process went well, where many kids said they finally felt heard by this administration,” she said. “Students go through a lot of stress, especially right now, and we need adults to help go through this together. Communication and trust is key.”

As a senior with little time left in school before graduation, Tatarka still looks forward to seeing a change, she said, “especially for my friends, my peers and my own sibling who goes to school with me.” She was also speaking up for those younger classmates that will remain in school behind her. 

“So I urge you all to think about students first,” she said.

High School Principal Paul Kesler reiterated the student ex-officio's remarks about how counselors went into each social studies class to give all students an opportunity to express their feelings, thoughts and concerns. 

“Their struggle right now is real, they’re feeling a sense of loss in many ways, our staff is feeling that also,” Kesler said. “This is a good time to get some feedback on that.”

There were positive and negative comments, and suggestions  to be followed up on next year, he said. Bullying specifically wasn’t the hot topic, he said, whereas the effects of COVID-19 and the related distancing policy this past year seemed to have a bigger impact on students, he said. 

“A lot of feedback came back in terms of student’s mental health. I have seen that mental health needs have increased. Students have felt the loss of activities, like not having traditional school dances,” he said, listing some of the students’ suggestions. “They talked about public affirmation of the great things that they’re doing; publicize those on announcements more. They want more classroom meetings. It’s important to hear from marginalized students.” 

Another suggestion, indicative of youth’s technological savvy, was to create a check-in sheet with a bar code so that students can remain anonymous while reaching out for help and/or to share concerns about someone else. The feedback so far was a good start, Kesler said, and counselors will be revisiting with students in a similar way in late January.

“All in all, I’m really proud of our students,” he said. “They’ve been really resilient in difficult situations.”

While on the topic of student safety, Interim Superintendent Scott Bischoping referred to a TikTok message that has been circulating nationally.  The Federal Bureau of Investigations and law enforcement concluded that any such threat is unfounded, he said. City police are aware of the post and will monitor the situation, he said.

The popular site TikTok has suggested that school shootings are to take place in a nationwide TikTok school threat challenge on Friday, apparently titled National Shoot Up Your School Day.

The post encourages students to make threats of violence against their school. Some districts are reportedly taking heavier precautions, such as Scotia-Glenville Central School and West Genesee in Syracuse.

Top photo: Batavia High School Principal Paul Kesler reviews the steps taken so far to connect with students, hear them out and develop a list of potential remedies for the void left by COVID-19 protocols. Photo by Howard Owens

March 1, 2019 - 7:22pm

Press release:

Are you interested in running for a seat on your local school board? The Genesee Valley School Boards Association (GVSBA) is holding an informational meeting for potential school board candidates at 7 p.m. on March 20.

The meeting will be held at the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership, 80 Munson St. in Le Roy.

This meeting will help you understand the steps that you must take to be included in the election, and what you can expect as a board member.

The meeting will also include panel discussions, featuring Patrick Burk, executive director of the GVSBA; other panelists are a newer board of education member, a veteran member, as well as a school superintendent.

The program will be a comprehensive look at what is required to run for election, some basic education law and the roles and responsibilities of a board of education member.  

This is an excellent way for a community member to become involved with the educational program in their home town,” Burk said.

Local school boards are comprised of five, seven or nine members, depending on the school district, and terms are either three or five years. Commitment, time and skills as well as required training and programs will also be discussed.

Refreshments will be served. Registration is required; please contact Burk or Sandra Lee James at (585) 344-7537.

March 11, 2014 - 1:31pm
posted by Kathie Scott in Board of Education, City Schools, foundation.

   The Batavia City School District Board of Education is forming a committee to establish a foundation to support the District and is looking for interested community members to serve on it.  In particular, the Board would like to encourage participation by individuals with experience in the areas of finance, endowment, not-for-profit, fund-raising, banking, education, or public school law .
   If interested, please contact the Superintendent's office at 343-2480 ext 1000.

September 18, 2013 - 4:40pm
posted by Kathie Scott in Board of Education, School Taxes, City Schools.

Highlights from the Batavia City School District (BCSD) Board of Education meeting on Sept. 17 include the following:

  • Tax rate adjusted ~ Decreases to lowest level in 10-plus years           
  • Reminder: Re-register for Basic STAR exemption by Dec. 31
  • District goals outlined
  • BOE president’s report
  • Superintendent elected to Board
  • Auditors review financial statements
  • BHS Homecoming in full swing

Tax rate adjusted ~ decreases to lowest level in 10-plus years

As a result of savings realized from the consolidation of schools, as well as some reevaluation and reassessment of properties, homeowners will see a 3.95--percent reduction in the school tax rate, or a $0.91 decrease per $1000 of assessed property value (to $22.14 per $1,000 of assessed property value). This is the lowest tax rate for the District in more than 10 years.

Reminder: Re-register for Basic STAR exemption by Dec. 31

Bill Smist of the NYS Department of Taxation and Finance (DTF) explained the new legislation that requires all homeowners who receive the Basic STAR exemption to register with the Tax Department by Dec. 31 in order to receive the exemption in 2014 and beyond. The legislation is an attempt to eliminate any inappropriate exemptions.

The requirement to re-register does not affect those seniors who receive the Enhanced STAR exemption. The process for Enhanced STAR has not changed.

Homeowners currently enrolled in Basic STAR have likely received notification of the requirement. That letter of notification included instructions and information to complete the process, but residents are able to register even without the letter. Smist emphasized that registration is both easy and quick. It can be done online at www.tax.ny.gov by clicking on the tab, “Register for STAR.” It can also be done via phone: 518-457-2036, Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

To register, residents will need their STAR code (included in the notification letter or available through the “STAR code lookup” link on the DTF Web site or through their phone assistance) and the names and Social Security numbers of all owners of the property and their spouses. Registrants will also be asked to confirm that the property is the primary residence of one of its owners (married couples with multiple residences may only claim one STAR exemption), that the combined income of the owners and spouses who reside at the property does not exceed $500,000 annually, and that no resident owner received a residency-based tax benefit from another state.

More information is available on the Web site or by calling the NYS Department of Taxation and Finance: www.tax.ny.gov or 518-457-2036.

District goals

For the complete presentation by Superintendent of Schools Christopher Dailey, please click on this link (or copy into your browser): http://www.bataviacsd.org/news.cfm?story=1120&school=0 .

Included here is a brief overview:

In introducing the District Goals for 2013-2014, Superintendent of Schools Christopher Dailey noted the District’s commitment, as articulated in the Mission and Vision statements, to empowering students to achieve their maximum potential and developing students who are able to successfully meet life’s challenges. He also emphasized the priority for continually improving the number of graduates who are college and career ready.

The four goals include: (1) close learning gaps UPK-12; (2) implement the second year of District Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) plans; (3) be fiscally sound; and (4) improve communication.

Steps to close learning gaps include such measures as implementing improvement plans aligned with the new Common Core Learning Standards; monitoring, reviewing, and adjusting strategies and programs; and providing and developing the resources and professional development needed for academic growth. The continuation of implementing APPR plans calls for utilizing the process as fully as possible for improving instruction, with the goal of having all teachers and principals rated as Effective/Highly Effective by Sept. 1, 2014.

In its aim to continue fiscal responsibility, the District will work toward creating a budget for 2014-2015 that is at or below the allowable tax cap while maintaining programs, managing the Capital Improvement Project, seeking revenue sources as well as more shared services, and advocating for our district at the local, regional and state level.

Communication goals include improving and increasing use of the Web site, Facebook, automated calling system, building and District newsletters, and local media; increasing meetings with community groups; adding Twitter accounts for each school building and video streaming the Board of Education meetings.

In addition, Superintendent Dailey touched on the Three-Year Vision which expands on the listed goals for improved academics and finances.

In closing, he noted that he believes the Batavia City School District will continue to lead, not follow, our region in success and achievements.

BOE president’s report

BOE President Patrick Burk outlined a number of goals to be considered for adoption by the Board. He and the superintendent will work together to bring a set of proposals to the Board for review, and he requested that all Board members forward any ideas they have to him.

Burk also noted that there has been high turnover of Board of Education members throughout the Genesee Valley region. The number of new board members in Western New York may be a challenge as Board members, administrators, and other concerned community residents continue to advocate, as a region, for such things as adequate funding for our students’ education.

In its continued efforts for championing local concerns, the Genesee Valley School Board Association is hosting a dinner meeting on Sept. 26 to bring together advocates of rural school districts. For more information about the dinner, contact Jim Thompson at 344-7947 or [email protected].

Superintendent elected to Board

Superintendent Dailey has been elected to the New York State Association of Small City School Districts, which will provide another platform which can be utilized to advocate for our district.

Auditors review financial statements

Audit Committee Chair Phil Ricci reported that the committee met with the auditors to review financial statements from the last fiscal year. Noting that the auditors had few and minor comments, he commended Business Administrator Scott Rozanski and District Treasurer Sally Sanford, particularly in the progress regarding Medicaid and Student Activities reports, where neither had any problematic findings.

BHS Homecoming in full swing

Student Ex-officio Board Member Samir Jain updated the Board members on high school events, including activities for Homecoming Week, Sept. 16-21. (See listing on the District Web site: www.bataviacsd.org/news.cfm?story=1113&school=1).

Superintendent Dailey noted that tickets are still available through the Athletics Office for the annual Athletic Hall of Fame dinner to be held at Terry Hills on Saturday, Sept. 21.

May 13, 2012 - 1:25pm

The Batavia City School District Board of Education will have its budget vote and member election on Tuesday, May 15. The candidates for election/reelection have shared their views in a series of interviews with The Batavian. Click the names of the candidates below to read the interviews.

There are five candidates running, including three incumbents -- Phil Ricci, Gary Stich and Gail Stevens -- and two newcomers -- Gretchen DiFante and Dennis Warner.

Warner declined our request for an interview.

Phil Ricci interview

Gary Stich interview

Gretchen DiFante interview

Gail Stevens interview

The polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. at Batavia's John Kennedy Elementary School, at 166 Vine St., for school district residents who live north of Route 5, and Batavia High School, at 260 State St., for those who live south of Route 5.

For more information on the budget, see the May 1 article, Batavia district pitches budget with a nearly 2-percent increase in the tax levy.

For some specifics on the background of each candidate, see their short biographies on the district Web site.

May 13, 2012 - 1:23pm

The first candidate interviewed was Phil Ricci, who has been on the school board since November. Ricci is a military veteran who currently works as a branch manager of two Bank of America locations, and he has years of experience in business/management, process improvement, financial management and consulting, as well as in working with youth.

Ricci is also a member of the Batavia City Youth Board and a budget ambassador for the school district's Audit Committee. He lives in Batavia with his wife and three children.

Could you talk about the experience you bring to the school board -- especially in terms of business and working with youth?

On the business side, I've worked for both the private and public sector. I've managed millions of dollars in funds, as well as teams ranging from five people to five hundred people. That said, school districts are a whole other beast of burden. They're not like how normal businesses work. The hard thing about experience is that, yeah, I have it, but in order to learn how a school district works, you have to learn how the state thinks and try to apply your business experience to that. Anyone who knows about New York State will tell you that if the state was a business, it would have been bankrupt 10 times over at this point. People on the school board learn real quickly that business experience doesn't go a whole long way with the way New York State does things.

As far as working with youth, when I was in Germany (in the military) I built a program from the ground up. It's called "Skies Unlimited," of which I then became the regional director of instruction for all of Europe. I got to work with every different type of population, and I learned the real message of advocacy. There are so many people out there who do not view youth programs as essential, and I challenge that every time I hear it. If you don't have solid youth programs, solid education, and solid support structures for youth, you end up having higher crime rates. You end up having a less educated workforce.

I think the biggest thing I've learned over the years -- working with kids in the military and being on the Youth Board here -- is that advocacy is huge. Even being on the school board, I can see that the way the state distributes money is inequitable. There are a lot of downstate districts that are not being affected to the same extent that our kids up here are being affected. And if you don't think that fighting for that is important because you don't like the way the system is, I'm not going to disagree with you that the system is broken; but those kids are suffering in the meanwhile. So I think the big thing for me with all the work I've done is learning how to be a solid advocate.

What made you want to run for the school board in the first place?

When Andy (Pedro) left, I was asked to come in and help out, so I threw my hat in the ring. There was a need, because (the school district is in) a really tough situation. The reason I'm asking to stay is that I know how bad it is, and I've seen what still needs to be done. We've got a lot of work to do, and it's far from being over. I know what it's going to take, and I just want the opportunity to help get us there. My big thing is and will continue to be to protect programs and to be equitable for all kids -- haves and have-nots. I'm not going to take away something from one youth that I wouldn't take away from another. But my main object is to not take anything away, and to do the things that need to be done to try to protect as many programs as we can.

I've been involved in the district for about seven years. I haven't always been on the board, but I've been involved. So I know what goes into (making a difference in the school district) and I know I can make a maximum impact.

Is there anything you would you like to change or see changed if you are reelected?

There's lots of things I'd like to continue to change. I think the biggest thing we need to work on right now in the district is our communication. I just think that we have to get better at expressing what we know and why we know it to everybody out there. That's an opportunity we've missed the ball on a lot. Some principles can't be explained simplistically, but it is our job to try and do that.

So one thing I would be pushing for from day one is more transparency, a clearer message, and just putting out there as much as we can.

How would you respond to people who express outrage that all other businesses and organizations are having to cut back and do more with less while the school district continues to propose tax increases? The implication is that the district thinks itself exempt from doing more with less.

I understand why they say things like that, and this goes back to the district not explaining things clearly enough. It's completely false. The district is doing a lot more with less. We're cutting programs. We're cutting positions. We've cut costs. We just closed a school. I think what's not being explained well enough is that these costs that keep pushing things up are not all controllable. Most of them out of our control -- they're coming down from the state. And at the state level, what they're doing is having their costs keep going up, and then they're pulling millions of dollars out of funding each year.

Imagine you have a job and a house budget. And every year, your costs are going to keep going up for whatever reason -- because of inflation or whatever it is. Then your employer comes in and says, "We're going to take eight-percent of your salary away each year for the next five years." So each year your costs are still going up, but you're losing an additional 8-percent of your income. If you're not making cuts, if you're not using your reserves, will you still be able to live in your house? Probably not.

My point is, of course we're cutting. Of course we're doing more with less. Because if we didn't, we wouldn't have a district. But we don't have control over all of our costs and expenditures. There is only so much you can cut, and there is only so much you have in reserve, before you start getting into these situations.

Just to be clear, before last year the board wasn't really raising the tax levy at all. It stayed pretty consistent. In the past couple of years, things have gotten really bad. You have a governor and a state legislature that has cut nearly 20 percent of your income over the past three years. So I would challenge anyone to show me how you can manage to not raise taxes in that situation -- as you're cutting positions and all this other stuff -- when 20 percent of your income goes away.

What are your thoughts on the proposed budget?

It's ugly -- I'm not in love with it, but because of the position we're in...I mean, I also didn't want to close Robert Morris School. My kids go there, and as a parent it was a hard thing to look my kids in the eyes and tell them I was closing their school. But it was a necessity. It was not a decision anybody wanted to make.

Do I think we could have lowered the taxes a little bit more? Yes, and I've already said that publicly. But overall, am I displeased with what we did to keep things going? No. It's not what I would want, and I don't think anyone on the school board wants it. I think everyone would love to deliver a zero-percent tax increase and still keep all the programs and all the schools open. But that's not the reality we live in right now.

What will happen if the budget gets voted down?

What happens is this: If it gets voted down two times, under the new tax cap law our ability to raise drops down to zero. So what that will mean, to put it plainly, is that all the programs we reinstated (with the consolidation) will go away -- for example, the ACE program, different music programs, and I'm sure more on top of that. Non-mandated programs will get looked at. These will get cut, because we're going to have to come up with an additional $500-$600. And plus we have other costs, too. So the people who vote "no" will get their zero-percent tax increase and kids will lose out on programs. It's that simple.

Can you comment on the house administrator position that is being created at Batavia Middle School?

This is another thing I don't think we're explaining well enough. The house administrator position is a re-purposed position. It's a new position as far as title goes, but it isn't a new hire kind of position.

What we did was take a model that is being used all across the country in larger schools. We're going to be adding a ton of kids to the middle school, so to make this really work we've re-purposed an assistant principal position, and we're making that person an in-house administrator; that means that this person is going to be in charge of the fifth and sixth grades. This person will be a direct point person for all parents, oversee all of the teachers, and stuff like that. Sandy Griffin is still in charge of the middle school, but because she is going to have over 800 kids in that school, we wanted to give her some additional support.

We understand that parents are nervous about the fifth-grade integration. We recognize that. And we wanted to make sure that next year and years into the future, that program is strong and the kids can go into the seventh grade with no problems. So all we did was utilize the resources we already had and the resources that we were going to have, and we're using them in a smarter way so that we can have a strong integration program with the fifth-graders coming into the middle school.

Do you have any closing comments?

I'll just say this: I understand the frustration that's out there. I'm not blind to it. Every time I make a decision, I'm doing it with four voices in my head. I hear a retired grandmother who is on a fixed income, for whom a 2-percent increase is not just a simple thing. I hear a working, single mom who is struggling to pay her bills -- or even unemployed. I hear the parents -- and the parent that I am -- about protecting programs for their kids so that they have a good future. And then I hear the kids' voices. How many kids have shown up crying at meetings because we're taking away things that change their lives?

These are the voices you hear (when you're on a school board). These aren't easy decisions. Any person who has the courage to go onto a comment board and tell people to vote something down, but not the courage to hear all of those voices and know what goes into making these decisions is someone who doesn't understand fully what it takes to do this job. I do, I'm grateful for the opportunity, and I wish to continue to do it. I've been called crazy for this, but I know I have the right demeanor and the right approach to this...and I care. And I think you need all that in order to be successful.

Photo courtesty of the Batavia City School District.

May 13, 2012 - 1:22pm

Gary Stich has been on the Batavia City School District Board of Education since 2005. He is the president and CEO of OXBO International Corporation in Byron. He and his wife, Beth, have two sons, one of whom is still a student in the Batavia schools.

What do you believe it takes to serve as a valuable member of the school board?

The situation for school board members is pretty complex, because we have to deal with a whole host of regulations -- coming mostly from New York State, and to a lesser extent from the federal government. And here locally, we have the complexities of dealing with various unions as well within the environment we operate in. So it's a pretty complex situation, and I think it takes a fair amount of effort and time to learn the lay of the land in order to be effective.

We have a good group of board members, and I think it's important to note that we work together collegially. We work well with the administration, but we ask tough questions and bring in our perspectives as individual board members from our professional and community backgrounds as well.

You've been on the school board for years. Why are you seeking reelection?

I'm seeking reelection because I don't think the job is finished. We're going through a very difficult period here, and there are a lot of difficult decisions to be made. And they're not over. The situation is not going to improve in the short term due to cut-backs from the state, unfunded mandates and so forth. (These things) make the situation for everyone in education -- including students, taxpayers and all the professionals in the district -- more difficult year by year.

Is there anything you would you like to change or see changed if you are reelected?

Sure. What I'd like to see changed is the attitude in Albany of jamming things down the local communities' throats in terms of unfunded mandates and regulations.

How would you respond to angry citizens who say that the school board is out of touch with the taxpayers?

I think we are trying to do more with less, and I'm not very happy either. I think you can consider me one of the angry taxpayers. But I think where the anger needs to be directed is to Albany. The problems in Albany are very deep. Everybody up here in Western New York and communities such as Batavia are paying the price for all the problems in Albany, and many of them are really issues from downstate. We have a state government that's dysfunctional, and we pay the price all the time.

What are your thoughts on the proposed budget?

Well, I think the school board and the administration have tried to present a budget that recognizes the need to control expenses tightly at the local level and not increase the burden more than we absolutely have to. I'd like to see the burden decrease for the local taxpayers, but in this environment, with cutbacks from Albany, it's difficult. But I think in the long run, we've got to continue to tighten our belts. It's an ongoing project, and the belt-tightening isn't over.

Can you comment on the house administrator position that is being created at Batavia Middle School?

Well, we're going to have a very full building at the middle school. We're adding another grade level there, and from our perspective it's important to provide support for the teachers and the students to make sure that the environment is very positive and conducive to learning. So I think it's the right move.

Photo courtesy of the Batavia City School District.

May 13, 2012 - 1:20pm

Gail Stevens has been on the Batavia City School District Board of Education for six years. If reelected, she will be serving her third term.

Stevens has a daughter, Michelle, who graduated from Batavia High School and a son, Eric, who will be graduating from BHS this year.

She works as a secretary to the Supervisor of Fleet Management at the New York State Police Troop A and is active in many community volunteer activities (see her short biography on the school district website for more details).

What experience do you have that makes you a valuable member of the school board?

I served on the Pavilion Board of Education before I moved to Batavia 14 years ago, and I have been active at all the parent/teacher groups in the Batavia school district -- first at Robert Morris, then at the middle school and right now at the high school. We now have a district-wide parent/teacher group meeting twice a year, and I was instrumental in developing that, communicating with all the groups, pulling names together and setting the agenda.

I'm also on the Genesee Valley School Boards Institute's board -- they're the ones who develop training programs for different school districts in this area. In addition to that I'm a second vice president for the Genesee Valley School Boards Association, and then I'm currently on the legislative committee for Genesee Valley Educational Partnership Board (GVEP) -- formerly BOCES.

Serving on the GVEP board has been a very enriching and wonderful experience, because it takes you one step above the local school district. BOCES oversees 22 component schools, including Batavia. It really helps you to see the big picture. I've had wonderful opportunities to go to Washington and network with other school districts across New York State.

Also, over the past six years I've attended many school board training sessions, be they conventions, conferences or just all-day workshops. The school district is a whole different entity than what people see it as. It has its own laws -- laws that pertain to education and the State Education Department -- and different guidelines that have to be followed, and it's completely different in how it runs, how it can be run, and what you can and cannot do. So it's been a gradual process, and it's been a fun journey along the way learning and developing myself in that way. That's why I do this. I don't want to sit back and complain or make statements that aren't fact-based. I'm not that kind of person. If anyone comes to me and asks me a question, if I don't know the answer, I'll get it for them. And I'll make sure my answer is not based on hearsay or emotions. That's not my style. I'm a very fact-based person.

Why are you seeking reelection?

I've been part of the consolidation process for a long time, and contrary to what people think, this is not something that has just been thought about or mulled over during the past year. I remember us talking about it years ago, because -- also contrary to what people think -- we (the school district) do plan for the future.

Another thing I want to point out is that people say we don't communicate enough. But the more information you put out there, sometimes I think the more people get confused. Also, some of the information is evolving over time, like with anything else. It's kind of like when you have a job interview; you don't go out and tell the world that you got the job, because anything could happen.

We've had some really tough times and really tough decisions (to make) with this consolidation process -- and contrary to the popular opinion that the board always agrees, we don't always agree. So because of the consolidation process, which I was present for in the starting phases, I would like stay. I want to continue to help with the transition to consolidation.

Of the things you have seen during your tenure as a board member, what do you think the board has been doing well (that you would like to see continue), and what do you think needs to change?

We are very good at communicating with each other when we're at the table working. There's no screaming, no yelling...I've heard of other districts where board members walk out of meetings, and to me that's just a huge waste of time. (At Batavia school board meetings) everyone sits, everyone listens, everyone speaks their peace, and if they don't agree they will say, "I don't agree, but I will support this for the sake of the district," or "for the sake of the students," or "for the sake of the taxpayers," or what have you. Everyone thinks we're all "yes" people, but we really aren't all "yes" people. It's a very diverse section of people, and I think that's what makes it so good. We don't all have the same professional background, some of us have younger kids, some of us have older kids, etc. I think it's a good cross section of the community.

At this point, I don't believe anyone on the board has a personal agenda. I know I never have, and I still don't. I've seen other districts go through some very controversial times because of one or two board members. You can't be out in the community condemning your colleagues or other board members. If you're going to do that, you shouldn't be on the board.

As for the second part of your question, there is going to be a lot of change. The Batavia school district, as we know it now, is going to look totally different in the fall. Right now, I think that's enough change. I think that if you bite off more than you can chew and make too many changes at once, that upsets the equilibrium of the district. You have to take baby steps. You have to stop, see what you're doing, see where the problems are, and go forward. At this point, I think the biggest change will be the consolidation and any bumps that come out of that. That's enough for the district to handle at this point.

What are your thoughts on the proposed budget?

Obviously, I support it. If I didn't, I would not have voted in favor of it. Like I said before, sitting on the BOCES board, I obtain a lot of knowledge of what's going on in other districts. I think Batavia was very proactive and out ahead of everyone else, but the flip side of that was that we took a lot of heat from everybody. I had someone sit next to me at a meeting when I talked about the financial situation and the consolidation, and that person asked me, "Why are the districts around us not doing any of this?" Since we were upfront and making people aware of the consolidation, and the districts surrounding us -- not neighboring districts in this area, but other districts in New York State -- hadn't really come out publicly about their financial situations, we came across as acting too fast. But that's how it is. You've got to be proactive. Some districts don't have buildings to close, and they're in serious trouble.

Some people are opposed to the budget because they feel that school district employees are demanding excessive pay and benefits. How controllable are these things at the local level?

They're not. And it's not just the schoolteachers, it's any unionized group -- be it state workers, county workers, etc. If you have a contract, that's a binding agreement. Some people have said, "Make them take a pay freeze." Well, we can't. We would then have to spend even more taxpayer dollars fighting a lawsuit.

And you've got to work with them. That's one thing I can say about our administrators -- they work very well with the staff. We have a committee looking into cheaper medical insurance costs, and there are administrators and union people on that committee. So we're working on it. And that's one of the reasons I work on the legislative committee for BOCES. When we go to Albany every year, we draft a position paper, take it with us, sit down with the senators and the assemblymen, and we talk about (the various laws that pertain to this issue). There's a whole slew of laws in New York State that we would love to see changed, but New York State is a huge ship. You can't turn it suddenly.

So the salaries/benefits that people object to will remain in place even if the budget doesn't pass?

Absolutely. The only things that will be taken out are programs for the students. When you vote down the budget, the only people you're really hurting are the students. If you have an ax to ground with the teacher's association or the union, voting "no" isn't going to help. It's going to be nothing other than self-serving -- so that you can say "I'm happy because I voted 'no.' "

What these people should do is come to board meetings, listen, and educate themselves. (One of these people should) start as a budget ambassador -- that's how I started out. I was budget ambassador two or three years in a row before I half understood what was going on. My biggest pet peeve in life is complaining about something without being willing to do something to change it. If you're not going to work to change it, then don't complain.

What was the rationale behind the in-house administrator position at Batavia Middle School?

We've listened to the parents and their concerns. One of the biggest concerns was the fifth grade moving to the middle school. When all was said and done, parents' biggest concern was with the lack of supervision, the program there, what will be going on...there are going to be a lot of changes. We want the transition to the middle school to be a positive thing for the students, for the parents, and for the staff. As a parent myself, I would have been thrilled if my kids could have gone to the middle school for fifth grade and had the enrichment opportunities these kids will be getting, the exposure to technology, and everything that goes along with it. We want to make sure we don't short ourselves with personnel in that area, because we want this to succeed.

We don't want to set up any of our buildings for failure at all. That's one thing I have to say again about the administration: Contrary to what people think, they are very intelligent people, and a lot of the decisions they make are really well thought out.

Also, everyone keeps saying that we haven't cut administrators. The fact is, we have cut one administrator per year for the last four years. It's right on paper, and I've mapped it out for many people.

Do you have any closing comments?

I just encourage people to go out and vote. Vote however you want to vote, but please vote. It's sad to see the apathy that goes on sometimes. We typically don't see public participation as important until something bad happens, and then everybody's there. Well, we'd like to have everybody there at every meeting, listening, learning, obtaining information and sharing it with others.

Photo courtesy of the Batavia City School District.

May 13, 2012 - 1:19pm

Gretchen DiFante, a newcomer to the school board, has four children who are currently in the Batavia City School District and a daughter -- Lauren, age 19 -- in the Air Force. Her son John, 17, and daughter Nina, 15, both go to Batavia High School. Her two younger daughters -- Elena, 10, and Eva, 7 -- go to John Kennedy Elementary School.

Her children have attended all schools in the district except for the middle school (her three oldest children attended Robert Morris, and one of them switched to that school from Jackson Elementary School; all three attended St. Joseph School for grades six through eight); her daughter Elena will be attending the middle school next year.

DiFante is currently the executive director of a Penfield-based nonprofit called Agape Counseling Associates, which just opened up an office in Batavia. Before that, she was the executive vice president of P.W. Minor shoe company and the director of efficient customer support for Rich Products.

She has won awards for her work in marketing and communications. During Operation Desert Storm, she was part of an award-winning public affairs unit for the Air Force Reserves' 914th Tactical Airlift Group in Niagara Falls. Her wide range of experience includes customer relations, communication and conflict/stress management.

What experience do you have that makes you a valuable member of the school board, and how will your degree in Communications help?

My concentration was in Public Relations, but Communications is a pretty open field. It has given me the opportunity to work in advertising, marketing and public relations -- being a general degree, it has opened up a lot of doors and allowed me to use a lot of different skills. My experience with customer service allows me to be more savvy at looking at budgets and managing departments, processes and flows, and how they come together.

As far as the school board goes, I think that when your community has a need, and there is a piece of it that you believe is missing -- something that you can supplement with your particular set of skills -- then that's an opportunity for you to step forward. And I believe that the particular skill set that encourages open communication, knows how to communicate during a crisis, and knows how to manage change is absent on the board right now.

The board and administration do recognize (that they struggle with communication), and I appreciate that. I work with clients who work in places where people are in a crisis mode at work; it's normal for communication to shut down when you're in conflict, because you don't know what to say and you're trying to protect yourself. Not everybody needs to be crafting that communication. Sometimes if you speak without having the right knowledge or experience, it can bite you back. When GCC was putting together a leadership certificate program for our public employees and they asked if I'd do the PR part of it -- how to train people on what to say to the media and so forth -- I found that sometimes the biggest part of the job is getting people to know when not to say things to the media, because sometimes people just don't think. It takes practice, skill, and a certain type of knowledge.

I believe that my background in change management and crisis communication goes into the places that need to be fixed and that nobody really wants to take over. When I was working at Rich Products, they made me an interim department head because they were looking for a new vice president. That seems to be how things happen for me, and I enjoy that. I enjoy the challenge of going into places where there is a lot of change, people are stressed, and the customer communication is failing because people forget about how to do that during times of change and stress. I think my particular background and experience is only going to enhance what is needed right now.

People say business experience doesn't go a long way on school boards because school districts and New York State are so different from businesses in how they operate. How do you plan to translate your business experience into this completely different environment?

I have a very unusual business background. I got into working with different organizations when I was at Rich Products, because I was an "executive on loan." Mr. Rich would basically lend me out. He lent me out to one of the public schools, the Erie County Clerk's Office, the Saddle & Bridle Club...just whenever people needed help doing a strategic plan, a marketing plan, or communication (both within the company and between the company and the public).

I don't think translating my business experience to a school board is going to be a problem. Right now I'm the executive director of a small nonprofit, and that's a whole different ball game from being an executive vice president at P.W. Minor or running a $2 billion department at Rich Products. So I'm very flexible, and I have experience that's varied. I love learning, and I love trying to figure out what (a given) group needs at a particular place and time, and how I can help meet that need. Right now, the school board needs vision, strategy, structure, communication, and public relations, and I've brought those skills to every job I've had. Don't get me wrong, it's a big learning curve (being on the school board). But believe me, in the military you deal with a lot of federal mandates. Right now I'm running a nonprofit that has to do with medical work, and I deal with HIPAA laws and insurance companies. I'm used to complications.

What made you want to run for the school board in the first place?

(What made me want to run was) looking around and seeing the trust break down between the schools, teachers, parents and the community. It was painful to go to those public forums and to see all the (bad communication) on the Internet, at Tops, while jogging at the track...it's the most critical dilemma facing Batavia right now. I do strategic planning with the city, and to start that off I interviewed council members one-on-one. Even their constituents want to talk about what's going on with the schools. I looked at that and at what's missing (on the school board and in the district), and I knew I had the skills to fill in those missing links. And that's what being a good citizen is about.

Part of your platform is the fostering of creative community partnerships. Could you talk a bit more about that? What exactly do you have in mind?

I'm in a unique place, because I work with leaders in our community at a strategic level. I also do that with Genesee Community College, and they are a recipient of the "products" that we graduate from our schools. There definitely has to be a lot of collaboration between the SUNY schools and our high schools and middle schools. A lot of the problems GCC sees start way before high school or middle school. I've also been on the steering committee that formed Leadership Genesee. So my exposure to leadership is very high. And everybody complains about the same thing. They'll say, "If only this group of people or this organization would partner with us..." They are struggling to figure out the answer to their problems themselves, but I know there are other groups that are trying to figure out the same thing. So why can't we all just get together? Everyone generally agrees that we all need to come together, but who is taking the lead?

The school board is going to keep losing money. I don't think there's a plethora of surplus money that's going to come down from New York State or the federal government. We have to be realistic and plan for the future. We have to ask how, for example, we can supplement our ACE program with programs that GCC could offer, that Leadership Genesee could offer, etc. I would love to see our district have a mentorship program. We have a lot of dynamic, intelligent people in this community, and yet we don't have active mentorship programs that I'm aware of. On my website, I mentioned a grant for creativity training that GCC got, which is for students going into middle school. We could work with them and seek out grants that will supplement needs in the schools instead of just stumbling upon them. So I'm talking about a much different level of collaboration. I think there is so much opportunity and that we need to start sitting down and getting to know each other, finding out what's available, and figuring out how to create opportunities for our students. We cannot allow their education to suffer just because we're not getting what we need in order to fund the school district.

What are your thoughts on the proposed budget?

I do believe the budget needs to pass, because we have a lot of key programs that we had lost reinstated. If the budget doesn't pass and the contingency budget is adopted, the ACE program and the music programs that have been reinstated will go away. That's where the $300,000 savings will come from. I think it's important that the voters understand that.

I believe the proposed budget meets the needs of the consolidation. Obviously there are some things that are being taken away. And the consolidation is hard for me -- it's hard for everybody. My three oldest kids were students at Robert Morris Elementary School, and I have very fond memories. We're emotional about our schools. We have ties to them, but we have to let those go. We need to move toward whatever's next.

The problem is that we don't have "whatever's next" defined. We've got to do a better job of defining what the future looks like for us. I don't want to sit around and lament what we've lost, I want us to make sure we have the best district in the state of New York. I want people to benchmark it because we are doing such a great job providing this great, enriched, well-rounded education for our students and because they're going places...To me it's not so important what the school district looks like. What's important are the results.

Getting back to the budget, I think it's also important for people to understand that we are depleting our fund balance. At a couple of the public forums I attended, people said: "You know, you've got $1 million, why don't you just wait another year and let us figure this thing out?" But what people need to understand is that it's not "money-out, money-in," it's just money-out. So they've got to have a strategy now for what they're going to do when there is no more fund balance. I would hate to see us take a step back and not pass the budget. I would hate to see us automatically lose another $300,000 just because we don't pass our budget. That's one of the alternatives, and I don't want to take that chance.

You've talked about the possibility of having a third-party mediator at the district's public forums. Could you talk a bit more about that?

Well, first of all, I have certification in conflict mediation from the Litigation Center of Rochester, which I got when I started working in consulting. The reality is that healthy organizations allow themselves to face conflict using measures and smart processes to get through the conflicts and come out on the better end. People disagree because they have different ways of looking at the same situation. When you are trying to bring two sides of a conflict together, you never use anyone who represents either party to be the mediator. What I have seen at the public forums for the school district is that mediators who represented the board of education got defensive, which is natural. It's good to have an objective third party so that you can listen. The board needs to be listening, not getting involved in the conversation. And that was not what happened in those forums.

Somebody who understands communication and its dynamics needs to help. And believe me, I know 100 percent that I could find someone who would facilitate these forums for us and would not charge us. There are people who want to serve. We just need to recognize what we need, and then go out and ask.

Do you have any closing comments?

I want us to be proud of Batavia. I want us to be proud to send our kids to school here and of the opportunities available. Batavia is the 13th city I have lived in, and it's the city in which I've chosen to raise my family. We're here for the long haul, and we want to see it become the best school district in the state. Whatever it looks like, that's my vision. We can do this -- we have a lot of resources, a lot of potential. I'm amazed at the talent we have in our area. We just need to get talking to each other, to have a vision that people can rally around and move forward.

For more information on DiFante and her background and platform, visit difante4schoolboard.com.

Photo courtesy of David DiFante.

October 4, 2011 - 11:14pm
posted by Geoff Redick in Board of Education, jackson elementary, City Schools.

More than 60 parents gathered at Jackson Elementary School on Tuesday evening for the final public forum on the pending city school district building consolidation.

Most of the acid-tongued sentiments heard at the first building consolidation forum last month were absent this time, although several parents did bring up some already-heard concerns, such as the financial worth and viability of actually selling the Washington Avenue administration building. Those concerns were readdressed without issue.

The only true "new" idea proposed was closing the Batavia Middle School. One parent proposed shuffling the district's 6th-, 7th- and 8th-graders off into the elementary and high schools, as a way to save neighborhood schools. Administrators expressed that they had considered the idea before, but eliminated it due to the size of the middle school and the amount of learning technology it currently houses for those students.

Now, the Batavia City School Board has six months to choose from a number of different plans for building consolidation. Those plans might do anything from keeping all three elementary schools open in some capacity, to shutting one down and running two larger neighborhood schools, or closing two schools altogether and housing all elementary students in an expanded John Kennedy School. Click here for coverage from WBTA News outlining all of the proposed plans.

The school board will mull over the options with help from the Budget Ambassadors committee. A final decision on the building consolidation is due in March.

October 4, 2011 - 1:00pm
posted by Geoff Redick in Board of Education, City Schools, Andy Pedro.

NOTE: This letter was read aloud by Superintendent Margaret Puzio at the Monday night meeting of the Batavia City School District Board of Education.

Margaret Puzio - Superintendent of Schools, Batavia City School District

Gail Stevens - President Board of Education, Batavia City School District

Subject: Letter of Resignation

Margaret - Gail,

I am sorry to inform you that I am writing this letter to inform you that I am resigning my position on the Batavia City School District Board of Education effective November 1, 2011. Last school year I made it known to both of you and the other BOE members that I would not seek re-election when my term expires on June 30, 2012. Since then things have changed considerably with my job and I can no longer give the time that is necessary to be an effective Board Member. As you are well aware that due to the added travel that is associated with my job, I have only made half the BOE Meetings since the new school year started and have made none of the consolidation public meetings. This is not fair to the employees of the district, other members or to the community that voted me on to the Board.

This is by the far the most challenging year this district has seen in a long, long time. Very difficult decisions need to the be made and the District needs Board Members that can give the time necessary to process the information and act on it. I no longer have that time and I can't in good (conscience) do a job that I can't give 100% to. This year more than any other is just too important!

The 5-plus years on the Board I have served have been a tremendous experience for me. The district is blessed to have an excellent leader in Margaret, top notch Administrators, teachers, support staff and a highly dedicated Board of Education. I wish you all continued success and want you to know I will always be an advocate for the Batavia City School District!

Good luck as you continue to move forward!


Andrew G. Pedro

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