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July 27, 2021 - 2:03pm
posted by Press Release in City Schools, batavia, news, schools, education.

Press release:

The Batavia City School District’s Registration Office will be located at the Robert Morris Site beginning on Monday, August 2, 2021.   Families are asked to use the Community Schools entrance when picking up or turning in registration materials, which is located off of the parking lot at the corners of Richmond and Vernon Avenues.  The hours are 8 AM-12 PM and 1 PM-3 PM until August 20.  Beginning August 23, hours are 8 AM-4 PM.

The District encourages any families with children entering Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK) or Kindergarten in September to please register their child as soon as possible.  Children who are residents of the District and who are four (4) years of age on or before December 1, 2021, are eligible to apply for UPK.  Children who will be five years old on or before December 1, 2021, are eligible for Kindergarten.  Please see the information on our District’s website, https://www.bataviacsd.org/page/electronic-registration, to begin the registration process.

 Anyone with questions may call the Registration Office at 585-343-2480 ext 1010.

July 20, 2021 - 2:00pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in City Schools, batavia, news, schools, education.

Scott Bischoping has been named interim superintendent for Batavia City Schools following the resignation of Anibal Soler.

Bischopping was the interim superintendent following the departure of Chris Dailey and preceding Soler's appointment at the start of 2020.

Soler accepted an appointment as superintendent of the Schenectady school district.

"His knowledge and leadership will guide us into the new school year," the district said in a statement.

July 2, 2021 - 11:54am
posted by Howard B. Owens in City Schools, batavia, news, notify.

Brenda Good, elected to a City Schools Board of Trustees seat in May would rather be a candidate for an administrator's position in the district than a member of the board, according to a letter of resignation she sent to Superintendent Anibal Soler on June 14.

The board voted unanimously to accept her resignation last night.

Good's resignation comes after last month's resignation by Peter Cecere, so there are now two vacant positions on the board. 

In her resignation email to Soler, Good acknowledged a prior phone call and said, "After much thought, I have decided to resign my anticipated seat on the Batavia City School Board. I am very invested in the youth and community of Batavia as my goal is to help all of our students become successful adults. With that said, I'm highly interested in becoming an administrator within the Batavia City School District. I'd like to be given the opportunity to interview for anticipated openings."

It will be up to the remaining trustees to fill the vacancies and the district has posted a call for candidates.

John Reigle, who won re-election in May, and Jennifer Lendvay, elected to her first term, took their oaths of office last night.

July 2, 2021 - 10:35am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Anibal Soler, City Schools, batavia, news, notify.

Eighteen months into his tenure as Batavia City School District superintendent, Anibal Soler informed city schools staff this morning that he is the final candidate to become superintendent of schools in Schenectady.

"Once I am officially appointed, I will be working with the Board of Education on a transition plan to ensure the district is supported and ready to reopen in the Fall, Batavia Strong," Soler said in his letter.

In an interview this morning, Soler said it's bittersweet leaving Batavia where he thinks the district has moved forward during his time here but the opportunity in Schenectady fits his career aspirations. 

"It's a larger district in a larger community," Soler said. 

It also offers some significant challenges for an ambitious superintendent. The graduation rate there is 68 to 70 percent, much lower than Batavia's 90 to 94 percent, and Schenectady has a couple of schools in receivership, which are "persistently struggling" schools.

"It wasn't an easy decision," Soler said. "I thought about it a long time and this fits my aspirations to do good things for more students."

There are 9,750 students in the Schenectady district. There are 2,283 students in Batavia.

Soler will step into a district roiled by controversy and facing a $7.8 million lawsuit by its former superintendent, Larry Spring.  

The claim alleges Spring was "coerced" to resign a year ago based on what he insists were false sexual harassment and workplace retaliation allegations made by a female employee, and that the district subsequently breached a confidentiality agreement by allegedly sharing materials concerning the claims against Spring with the media.

Soler said he was aware of the situation but knew no more about it than what has been reported in news sources. He then shifted the discussion to the bigger challenge of the academic issues in the district.

Soler has not officially resigned. He informed the school board and the staff of his position as the finalist in Schenectady because his potential appointment is being made public in that community today. Once the Schenectady board approves his appointment -- the vote is Wednesday -- Soler will formally resign from Batavia City Schools and begin working with the board and staff on a transition.

The Batavia City School District Board of Trustees recently approved a contractually scheduled 2-percent raise for Soler along with a one-year contract extension, extending the agreement to 2024. Soler was expected to make $164,800 in 2021-22.

After more than eight years with the Schenectady district, Spring was earning $205,000 a year at the time of his resignation.

Letter:

Good morning Batavia Staff, 

I hope your summer recess has kicked off to an amazing start and you are finding time to rest, rejuvenate and recharge. I am writing to let you know that today it will be announced that I have been selected as the next permanent candidate for Superintendent of Schools in the Schenectady City School District in Schenectady, NY. 

This was not an easy decision given all that we have endured and achieved in my short tenure. I want to first thank the Batavia Board of Education for their continuous support and understanding. Once I am officially appointed I will be working with the Board of Education on a transition plan to ensure the district is supported and ready to reopen in the Fall, Batavia Strong. 

It has truly been my honor and privilege to serve the children and families of Batavia for the past year and a half. I thank the many parents, community members and countless committed educators and staff members, who have offered their unwavering encouragement, resources, and expertise on behalf of children. What we accomplished during a pandemic is commendable and will never be something I will forget. In addition, working with the dedicated individuals on the leadership team and staff who also comprise the Batavia School Board has been equally rewarding. 

Most importantly, I thank the students of Batavia, for demonstrating their talents, resilience, persistence, and skills to all of us during what has been a difficult time. The work we accomplished across the district includes experiences that I will take with me as I embark on this new opportunity.

I am extremely proud of the work we accomplished together during my time in Batavia City Schools. Behind each of these accomplishments lies the hard work and dedication of the exceptional Leadership Team in the district. 

These are but a few of those achievements and highlights:

  • Developed a strong Reopening Plan in the Fall of 2020.
    • No layoffs or mid-year cuts in staff during pandemic despite ongoing threat from Governor’s Office regarding a 20% reduction.
    • Stayed open five days a week throughout the majority of 2020-21 school year for our English Language Learners, Special Education, and at-risk students.
    • Reopened schools for the last 10 weeks to 5 days of in-person learning.
    • All of our student-athletes were able to have a sports season this year.
  • 2019-20 Budget: Closed $2 million deficit & 0% Tax Increase - 63% Community Approval.
  • 2020-21 Budget: Adopted with 0% Tax Increase and no impact on staff/ programs - 82% Community Approval.
  • The 2020-21 Budget includes fully funded appropriated & unappropriated reserve funds.
  • Graduation rate for 2016-20 Cohort 93% (June) Cohort 94% (August) - 2% point growth from the previous cohort.  Estimated to be higher for 2017-21 Cohort.
  • Served 500,000 meals to our community since March 2020.
  • Opened the new Family and Community Engagement Center at Robert Morris.
  • Launched a Community Schools Initiative that focuses on equity, opportunity and family.
  • Implemented a Strategic Planning Process - that will help guide the district forward for years to come.
  • Adopted Policy 8140, Equity, Inclusivity, and Diversity in Education - which will create systemic structures and practices to ensure ALL kids are supported.
  • District-wide Equity Journey.
  • Grants Awarded:
    • My Brother’s Keeper Family & Community Engagement Grant - $500,000 (4 year Grant).
    • Extended School Day/ School Violence Prevention Grant - $1.75 million (5 year Grant).
  • Built a new state of the art playground at Jackson Primary School.
  • Assisted in adding an eSports Program at BHS in partnership with Daemen College.
  • Successfully Negotiated contracts for the Batavia Custodial Department, Batavia Administrative Association and IT Department. 
  • Energy Performance Contract Initiated that will bring operational savings to the district.
  • Completed an updated Building Condition Survey of all district facilities. 
  • Implemented new website management and communication platform - Thrillshare by Apptegy.
  • Added a new critical executive position to the organization overseeing Human Resources, labor relations and personnel matters. 

I wish much-continued success for Batavia and the Batavia City School District. Batavia will always hold a special place in my heart as the district of my first Superintendency. I will, at the pleasure of the Board, spend my remaining time ensuring and assisting in a smooth transition in order to maintain the positive momentum that has begun. 

Enjoy your holiday weekend.

June 23, 2021 - 4:09pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in van detta stadium, City Schools, batavia, news.

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Fourth graders today competed in Batavia's annual Fourth Grade Track Meet at Van Detta Stadium.

In 2019, the competition was held in Oakfield because the Van Detta was under construction and in 2020 the meet was canceled because of COVID-19, so this year's fourth-grade class is the first group of fourth graders to hold its meet in the new Van Detta Stadium. 

That's something they'll be bragging about in 50 years said Athletic Director Mike Bromley.

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June 16, 2021 - 10:38am
posted by Howard B. Owens in schools, education, news, City Schools, batavia, notify.

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At a time when politics sometimes obscure the good work people do, Superintendent Anibal Soler "took stock" Monday night of all the things parents students, staff, administrators and school board members accomplished during the coronavirus pandemic.

As part of his regular superintendent's update, Soler ran through a list of positive things that have taken place in the district since the pandemic rolled into Genesee County 15 months ago.

"Sometimes we get lost in the current events, the news articles, this whole thing we can’t really control, people question our integrity, our commitment to kids because we may not be extreme about masks or anything of that nature," Soler said to open his remarks.

In no particular order, he said:

  • Though the district didn't have to, schools reopened 10 weeks ago to full, in-class learning five days a week. "We could have taken the easy route," Soler said.
  • The school board approved a budget with zero impact to taxpayers in "a very tough year."
  • The district fed 150,000 meals to district families.
  • The district installed 200 WiFi hotspots so students without internet access can study at home.
  • "Parents were subject to constant, evolving guidance from the state and an ever-changing approach to learning from us," Soler said. "We know this hasn't been an easy year. They've stayed committed to us, committed to their kids, and their kids have been resilient. They rarely complain about any of the things we ask them to do." He added, "I want to thank our parents for always encouraging their kids to be resilient but I also want to thank our kids for stepping up and doing everything we asked like social distancing in the cafeteria, sitting at desks the whole time, you've got to walk with your mask on, one person at a time in the bathroom, a variety of things."
  • The district provided at-home technology to pre-K students so students didn't need to bring technology back and forth from home to school.
  • The district opened a brand-new playground at Jackson School "during a pandemic," he noted.
  • Students in Special Education were coming to school campuses five days a week from the start of the pandemic.
  • Plans are in place for a prom and graduation.

It hasn't been an easy year but the best barometer for how the district has performed, he said, is what the kids say.

"Most of them say we did a pretty good job with what we had to work with," Soler said.

"This is a very politically divided time," he added. "If we stay grounded on what we do for children we can never go wrong."

At the start of his update, Soler announced that two principals in the district have taken new jobs elsewhere.

Ashley John Grillo will be leaving Batavia Middle School to become principal of the Junior-Senior HS in Byron-Bergen.

Amanda Cook is leaving John Kennedy to become director of curriculum in Pavilion.

Nate Korzelius will become interim principal at BMS. Soler said Korzelius will work on integrating high-school-credit courses into the offerings at BMS and that the change will open more opportunities for those students who participate to start Genesee Community College studies while in high school.

June 8, 2021 - 5:23pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in schools, education, batavia, City Schools, news, video.
Video Sponsor

Batavia parents and students protest mask policy at Upton Monument.

May 14, 2021 - 1:24pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Jackson School, batavia, City Schools, news, education, schools.
Video Sponsor

For the first time today, students at Jackson School got to play on their new playground, after a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

May 12, 2021 - 12:31pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Batavia Middle School, City Schools, batavia, news, schools, education.

bsdcounofyear2021a_0.jpgNicole Mayers, a Batavia Middle School counselor, has been selected by the NYS School Counselor Association as the state's Counselor of the Year.

Mayers has been a school counselor for 16 years and worked at BMS for eight years.  

Currently, her focus is on school attendance, academic achievement, and providing social-emotional skills to students.

She was instrumental, according to information released by the school district, in implementing a daily social-emotional learning program for middle school students. Students are given daily SEL prompts that officials say have been beneficial during the coronavirus pandemic.

She is a certified trauma illness and grief responder.

May 11, 2021 - 5:38pm
posted by Press Release in City Schools, batavia.

Presented by Batavia City Schools

May 11, 2021 - 4:33pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Rose Mary Christian, news, schools, education, batavia, City Schools, notify.

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Sixth Ward Councilwoman Rose Mary Christian spoke up Monday at the city schools board of trustees meeting on behalf, she said, of her constituents, decrying the high cost of education in an age of tighter household budgets.

"I really don't have any solution," Christian said near the end of her remarks. "I'm asking you to seriously think about the people who live in this community and are having a hard time right now."

She noted that assessments have gone up throughout the city and that is putting more of a squeeze on some households.

She asked if the board considered reducing salaries for teachers and other staff members.

"Everything is escalating and it's hurting everyone, even you," she said.

She also asked that Sacred Heart once again be used as a polling station in school district elections.

On May 8, voters will chose among four candidates for three positions on the school board and whether to approve a $661 spending plan for the district for 2021-22, an increase of $625,935 from the current year.

The proposed tax levy (the aggregated of all property taxes collected in the school tax) is $19,493,958, exactly as it is in the current year.  

State and federal aid covers most of the rest of the district's spending.

Photo: Still from video of Monday's meeting.

April 14, 2021 - 5:13pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in City Schools, batavia, news, notify.

The adoption of a proposed 2021-2022 school budget for Batavia nearly brought Board of Education President Alice Ann Benedict to tears on Monday night.

She wasn't upset. If anything, she was overjoyed.

The budget doesn't increase the district's tax levy one penny over the 2020-21 budget. With rising property values and commercial properties that were previously covered by tax abatements known as PILOTs* rolling out of those programs, most property owners should see the education portion of their property taxes going down next year.

Superintendent Anibal Soler said a rough guess right now is that a home assessed at $100,000 will pay $64 less in school taxes.

He called that a win for the community and in remarks at the end of the meeting, Benedict agreed and thanked Soler, Business Administrator Scott Rozanski, and the rest of the board of education for their work on the budget.

"I just want to say how pleased I am that we got to zero percent because I think it is quite important for our community," Benedict said before fighting back tears. "This has been a tough year. I just wanted to say I appreciated it."

Rozanski said it was possible to balance the budget because of additional state and federal aid being provided to local school districts.

The tax levy this academic year is $19,493,958 and under the proposed budget will be exactly the same in the coming year.

The total budget will increase from $51,470,726 to $52,096,661, a 1.22-percent increase in spending, which is just below the consumer price index increase of 1.3 percent.

The tax rate based on the proposed levy has not yet been set.

"The tentative PROJECTED tax rate (using the current assessed values) is $20.65," said Rozanski in an email to The Batavian. "This amount WILL change because all the information (assessed values, equalization rates, omitted taxes, and removed exemptions are NOT finalized until the summer. The OFFICIAL tax rate will be calculated in August/September 2021."

There will be a public budget presentation on May 10 and the budget will go before voters on May 18.

*PILOTs -- Payment(s) In Lieu Of Taxes.

March 24, 2021 - 1:08pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in City Schools, batavia, news, schools, education.

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Kathie Scott, holding the certificate in the photo above, was honored by the city schools' Board of Trustees at its meeting Monday night as she nears the end of her 25-year career with the district.

Scott, who holds a degree in public relations from the University of Dayton, came to the district from BOCES and handled public relations and as social media came along started handling much of the district's official social media presence. 

Superintendent Anibal Soler said no decision has been made on how that role will be filled in the future.

Asked what she will miss most about the job, she said: "Two of my favorite parts of the job were, one, being able to highlight all students and staff in everyday learning as well as the achievements of particular individuals; and two, the changes in the way we communicate has provided so much opportunity to grow and diversify skills. The first – highlighting students and staff – is the part I’ll miss. The other – learning and growing – I can continue to do even though I’m leaving BOCES."

As for what's next, she said, "I’m not sure! I’ve been tossing around ideas, including the same or similar work, but no set plan has crystallized, partly because I’ve been busy trying to finish up projects. I can never sit still though, so I’m excited about the next phase or adventure -- whatever it might turn out to be!"

Photo courtesy Anibal Soler.

March 4, 2021 - 6:17pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in City Schools, batavia, news, notify, schools, education.

If he could open Batavia city schools up to in-class learning five days a week any time soon, he would, Superintendent Anibal Soler told the Board of Education at its regular meeting on Monday.

He said he knows some neighboring districts are going to daily in-person instruction, but he said the district won't violate any state or CDC guidelines to make it happen in Batavia.

"From our standpoint, if we can put more kids on the bus, we already would have done it," Soler said. "If we could get more kids in a class, we already would have done it."

He said he is staying abreast of guidelines and if changes are announced, the district will be able to work quickly and diligently to adjust.

Also during his superintendent's report on Monday, he said guidelines on masking have changed. Under the new policy, if you have your mask on and the other person has his or her mask and you're not within six feet of each other, you're not going to be subject to quarantine if the other person tests positive for COVID-19. Under the previous policy, anybody in the same enclosed space, such as a classroom, even if 20 feet apart, would be subject to quarantine. 

"This is meant to limit the number of kids and limit the number of teachers who get quarantined," Soler said. 

Soler also updated the trustees on testing.  

The U.S. Department of Education denied the state's request to waive all required state testing for students in grades 3-8 and the Regents test for grades 9-12. As a result, the district will be required to test all in-person learning students, third grade and up, in Math, ELA, and the Regents exams. The state has said these tests will only be used for diagnostic purposes and will not harm school accountability reports. The state is considering not using Regents exams as a requirement for graduation. 

Soler said the district expects to receive more information on testing and graduation and when that information is released, principals will be communicating directly with students, families and staff.

Finally, photo below, Officer Jason Davis, who has served recently as the district's resource officer, was honored by the district as approaches retirement for his service to the community and the district.

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Photo courtesy of Anibal Soler.

You can help support local news by supporting The Batavian.

February 25, 2021 - 5:10pm
posted by Press Release in City Schools, batavia, Batavia PD, news.

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Press release:

The City of Batavia Police Department, in partnership with the City of Batavia School District (BCSD), is proud to announce the addition of Officer Miah Stevens as the newest School Resource Officer (SRO). Officer Stevens is replacing retiring Officer Jason Davis who has held the post for the last two years and has served the City for 20+ years as a police officer.

Officer Stevens is a 2013 graduate of Pembroke High School, she went on to attend Genesee Community College and SUNY Brockport majoring in Criminal Justice. Officer Stevens has previously worked for the YMCA – Batavia as a children’s swim instructor and lifeguard, City of Batavia – Bureau of Maintenance as a summer laborer and the City of Batavia School District as a teacher’s aide. 

“First, I want to thank Officer Davis for his hard work, commitment and dedication to our district and our school community. He has been an invaluable member of our BCSD family and we wish him well as he enters retirement.” said Anibal Soler, superintendent of the BCSD.

“The role of a School Resource Officer is important in our work supporting our students and families. We are grateful and excited to continue our strong partnership with Batavia Police Department and we welcome the addition of our new School Resource Officer Miah Stevens.” 

“I know she will bring new energy, commitment and perspective to our school community. I look forward to the example she will set for many of our female students and I know she will continue the amazing work started by those before her. Welcome to Batavia City Schools Officer Stevens.” 

The City of Batavia Police Department established the SRO program with the BCSD in 2019 and has had a successful partnership. The SRO delivers DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) training, is a resource to connect staff and students to community services, and is a liaison between the District and the criminal justice process.

“I wish to express my appreciation to Officer Davis for his service to the residents of the City of Batavia for the past 20 + years and congratulate Officer Stevens in her new role," said Chief Shawn Heubusch. "I look forward to a continued partnership with the BDSD to ensure a safe environment for youth in Batavia. I welcome all residents to join me in congratulating Officer Stevens as she transitions into her new role.” 

The City of Batavia Police Department’s main priority is to ensure the safety and security of those that live, work and play in the City.  BPD’s mission is to provide comprehensive, effective police services that exceed the expectation of the citizens in a timely and responsive manner.

Photo: Officer Jason Davis, Officer Miah Stevens, Superintendent Anibal Soler

February 10, 2021 - 12:19pm
posted by Press Release in City Schools, schools, education, news, batavia.

Press release:

At Monday night’s Board of Education meeting, the Batavia City School District announced its new Community Schools Initiative.

Batavia’s Community Schools Initiative is a transformational researched-based strategy that is focused on the whole child with key participation from school and community leaders, educators, community partners, students, families and residents.

Moving forward, Batavia’s Community Schools Initiative will be rolled out and in place at all four of the district’s schools. Each school will see the community as a resource for learning and development and as a partner in the education of all children.

Batavia’s Community Schools will also develop respectful and mutually beneficial relationships with families, neighborhood residents, agencies, and community-based organizations that are focused on the well-being of children and youth.

Batavia’s Community Schools Initiative will focus on four key areas in an effort to support the whole child:

  • Expanded & Enriched Learning Time

  • Integrated Student Supports

  • Family and Community Engagement

  • Collaborative Leadership Practices

The Batavia Community Schools Advisory Board, which is comprised of various district staff, community-based organizations and partners, has developed the following vision and mission statements to help guide the work and focus of district schools moving forward.

Vision

Build a better Batavia by promoting equitable learning opportunities, cultivating healthier families, and establishing a stronger community.

Mission

Our mission is to unite our Batavia community and schools through shared resources, working partnerships, and open, collaborative communication.

The advisory board also developed a new logo that will help brand and identify events and programs that are directly aligned to the community school’s initiative and also place an emphasis on equity, opportunity and family.

Video supplied by the school district.

Previously: City schools tackling initiative to care for the community in support of education

February 9, 2021 - 6:40pm

With little fanfare, the Batavia City School District staff has taken on a strategy to help families in need as part of an overall effort to care for the whole child and to become a greater asset to the community.

A former kindergarten room at Robert Morris School has been converted into a community center where children and parents can get assistance not just with school work but with many life needs -- from doing the laundry to ensuring everybody has appropriate clothing.

Julie Wasilewski, a district social worker, and Julia Rogers, Batavia High School assistant principal, have spearheaded the effort. They presented the community center idea to the Board of Education during Monday's meeting as part of a presentation of the new Batavia Community Schools Initiative.

The initiative is described as a reform strategy "to promote child well-being, student success, and educational equality."

(NOTE: The school board meeting was held via Zoom and Wasilewski and Rogers were on a shared device and it was impossible to see who was talking when and so quotes are generically attributed to "she said.")

"Community schools are for student education and development," she said. "They are a place where we fundamentally pay special attention to and ensure students' physical, medical, safety, their social-emotional needs are met. When we meet these needs, families can then fully engage in the opportunities afforded by public school education."

A great school is one that cares for the whole town, they said. It involves working with residents throughout the community to support learning. It includes not just educating children but educating parents. 

"We're powered by strong relationships with agencies, businesses, health care providers, clubs and organizations," she said. "Every family and community member can be leveraged as an asset to children's lives. So far, we have 82 of these arrangements with community leaders who are willing to extend the power of their organizations."

The new engagement center is one part of the plan, but so far it's the most concrete effort to serve the community.

"When a family enters the family community engagement center, they are treated with the utmost respect and compassion, regardless of whether they are making optimal life decisions or maintaining a sober lifestyle," she said. "Four hundred and 16 donations have been made to children ... clothing, school supplies, hygiene products, toys, books, housewares, bedding, and food. The closet contains appropriate clothing so an individual can be successful and feel a sense of belonging and acceptance, both in school and in the community."

"There is no Batavia community member who has to skip an interview or a day of work because they don't have appropriate clothing," she said.

Shoes are available to children so they always have something appropriate to wear on the playground or walking outside.

A recent example of how the engagement center assisted community members outside of a school environment was when Tammy Hathaway from United Way contacted the center looking for 30 winter coats. The coats were donated to GCASA because people who are waiting for their methadone treatment are required, because of COVID-19, to wait outside.

The initiative comes at a time when schools are already required to adjust to meet student needs.

"Amid the hardships of COVID-19, community schools have readily adapted to changing conditions and needs, devising innovative mechanisms to deliver food, technology, health care, and other essential services to support student learning and well-being," she said.

Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr. called it a "win-win" for the community.

"Batavia is one of those communities where you grow up here, you live here, everyone knows everyone, and everyone wants to support everyone, but we don't always have the conduit to do it," Soler said. "So the hope is the school becomes the hub for the conduit. The school becomes the hub for the community."

February 4, 2021 - 11:40am
posted by Howard B. Owens in City Schools, Anibal Soler, live stream, video, education, schools.
Video Sponsor

We're scheduled to start at noon. We will be talking with Superintendent Anibal Soler about how things are going in Batavia city schools, get a COVID-19 update, talk about "high-risk" sports starting up, reopening Robert Morris, his experience on the Batavia PD stakeholders' group, and the district's new equity policy.

NOTE: The post has been updated with an edited version of the video that cuts out the technical problems at the start of the interview.

January 29, 2021 - 2:28pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Robert Morris School, City Schools, batavia, news, notify.

It has been seven years since public school students cracked open a textbook at the Robert Morris building on Union Avenue in Batavia but the Batavia City School District superintendent is thinking it's time for that to change.

Anibal Soler Jr. suggested to the Board of Trustees on Monday night, along with a facilities consultant who made a presentation during the Zoom conference meeting, that Robert Morris is being underutilized; that there are space constraints elsewhere in the district, particularly at the middle school; and without students at Robert Morris, the building is a financial drain on the district.

"We wanted to throw something out there to get your mind working," Soler told the trustees. "We know we’ll have some fiscal challenges but to maintain a building that we don’t get anything for and we have to keep finding tenants as we do at Robert Morris, I think we have to start thinking about that, especially when we know the middle school is extremely packed right now."

In 2012, city schools consolidated their five schoolhouses into four -- Jackson Elementary, John Kennedy Primary, the middle school and the high school -- with Robert Morris becoming home to a couple of school programs with space available to tenants. The building has been generating $100,000 annually in lease payments for the district. That revenue will drop to $36,000 in the coming fiscal year. One tenant currently in the building is leaving once its lease expires in June. 

Meanwhile, because there are no students in the building, the district cannot receive state aid for any maintenance or improvements needed on the structure, Soler said.

The future of Robert Morris came up during a presentation by Richard Little and Brian Cieslinski, of SEI Design Group. The architectural firm was hired by the district to fulfill a state mandate to do a facilities review every five years.

The state requires each school district to go through these periodic reviews because identification of issues at school facilities helps the state's education department budget for aid to school districts.

SEI identified more than $40 million in maintenance issues that need to be addressed within the next five years.

“This looks daunting as far as a $40 million sum," Cieslinski said. "I would tell you, statistically, (compared to) a lot of our school districts this is actually a very good list. You’re maintaining your buildings very well."

The list includes items such as:

  • Jackson School
    • Improving accessibility to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act
    • Replacing rooftop heating, ventilation, and air conditioning units
    • Installing an emergency generator
  • John Kennedy School
    • Improving drainage
    • Replacing broken or cracked concrete slabs
    • Accessibility
    • Moisture mitigation in the gym
    • Upgrades to the alarm and PA systems
  • Middle School
    • Exterior brick restoration
    • Moisture in the gym walls
    • Accessibility
    • Fire barrier in the auditorium
    • Installing an emergency generator
  • High School
    • Locker room renovations
    • A boiler upgrade
    • Moisture mitigation
    • Lighting upgrades
    • A new public address system
  • Robert Morris
    • Brick repairs
    • Window replacements
    • Accessibility
    • An upgrade to the fire alarm system and PA
    • An emergency generator

SEI delivered to the school district a thick binder that listed these items and many more that were ranked from 1 to 5 by priority. It will be up to district officials to figure out how best to prioritize these items over the next five years.

Board President Alice Ann Benedict asked if the conversion of Robert Morris back into a school is something that will be part of the upcoming budget discussions. Soler said, no. The conversion and reassignment of students will be a significant planning issue. It will take a lot longer than a couple of months to pull together and it also needs to involve discussion with the board, administrators, teachers, parents, and other community members.

Little did present one suggestion under consideration: Moving two classes of students out of the middle school -- possibly to Robert Morris, and then relocating district offices to the middle school. That would free up space at the high school, possibly for expanded STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) education, as well as accommodate students in the future who might do better with remote learning even in a post-COVID-19 education world.

Soler was quick to emphasize that is just one idea and that more ideas need to be explored with community input.

January 28, 2021 - 4:12pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in City Schools, schools, education, news.

The Board of Trustees for Batavia City School District has adopted a new public communications policy that Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr. characterized at this week's meeting as allowing more public input into board decisions and discussions.

The initial idea for drafting a new policy came from board President Alice Ann Benedict in October. At that meeting, Soler suggested running any proposed policy change through a subcommittee.

The proposed policy came to the attention of attorneys at the Cornell Law School First Amendment Clinic, who drafted a letter to the school district expressing concern about some of the proposed changes, which Attorney Heather Murray said could run afoul of the First Amendment.

In the new policy, the school district seems to have heeded the advice of the clinic.

In the initial draft, a paragraph prohibited public discussion of individual district personnel and students. Murray said this policy would prevent members of the public their right to criticize public officials. She cited a case involving a school board in Virginia where similar language was struck down.

The new policy does not include language prohibiting discussion of individuals.

The original draft also indicated, “Obscene language, libelous statements, threats of violence, statements advocating racial, religious, or other forms of prejudice will not be tolerated.”

Murray informed the district this language was overly vague, noting that a basic tenet of the First Amendment jurisprudence is that speech cannot be restrained in anticipation of libel. She said the appropriate remedy for an alleged libel is a civil suit for money damages.

She also said, "Second, the quoted language as a whole, and in particular 'other forms of prejudice,' is impermissibly vague and provides too much discretion to the Board to restrain certain viewpoints. Further, because these terms are not well defined and left to the determination of the Board President, there would likely be a chilling effect on public speech at Board meetings.

The final policy alters the language from the first draft, too, "All speakers are to conduct themselves in a civil manner. Obscene language, threats of violence, statements advocating racial, religious, or other forms of prejudice on the basis of protected class will not be tolerated."

Federal and state law establishes what constitutes a "protected class" when it comes to discrimination.

The board did retain a requirement that people wishing to speak at meetings first fill out a form, that includes a request for identifying information. Murray's letter suggested requiring people to identify themselves violates the state's open meetings law. However, the new policy does strike a proposal giving the board president the ability to rule on what topics were "generally appropriate." 

Murray noted that giving the board president power to silence people on certain topics prior to them speaking would constitute unlawful prior restraint.

Previously, Benedict had suggested the questions submitted by the public for the board be prescreened. Murray recommended against such a practice since it could constitute viewpoint discrimination and that pre-writing answers to questions submitted prior to the meeting could violate the open meetings law.

Overall, Murray said today she is pleased that the board seems to have listened to the clinic's recommendations.

“The Board’s decision to make revisions to the proposed policy prior to its adoption is a great example of elected officials making decisions with input from the public," Murray said. "Providing the opportunity for members of the public to address school board members on matters of public concern is critical to maintaining trust during this unprecedented time for us all.”

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