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 Solar 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!"
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.
Photo courtesy of Anibal Soler.
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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
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.
Build a better Batavia by promoting equitable learning opportunities, cultivating healthier families, and establishing a stronger community.
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.
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."
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.
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:
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
Replacing broken or cracked concrete slabs
Moisture mitigation in the gym
Upgrades to the alarm and PA systems
Exterior brick restoration
Moisture in the gym walls
Fire barrier in the auditorium
Installing an emergency generator
Locker room renovations
A boiler upgrade
A new public address system
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.
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 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.”
Jackson Primary School is striving to create "Magical Moments" for families in its community in partnership with the Genesee County Sheriff’s Employee Association. The association has donated gifts for 10 family experiences. Every student will be entered into a drawing to win one of the gift packages.
"During these uncertain times, we know family is so important," said Principal Maureen Notaro. "With the help of some elves who shopped for all of these families experiences, we have created 10 'Magical Moments' for families to enjoy together. Some of these experiences include sledding, painting, and family movie night. We supported local restaurants and businesses whose owners go out of their way to give back to our school community."
Sheriff William Sheron Jr. will draw the winners at our “Jackson Spreads Joy” event on Monday at 5:30 p.m. You do not need to be present to win. Winners can pick up their prizes on the next day at Jackson Primary between 8 a.m. 4 p.m.
Statement from Batavia City School District Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr.:
Dear Batavia Blue Devil Families,
As the number of positive COVID-19 cases continue to rise across New York State and specifically in Genesee County (8-percent positive test rate -- current highest in New York) it brings a number of challenges for the school district.
These challenges include but are not limited to the following:
Our ongoing ability to staff in-person learning with certified staff members.
Guidance regarding close contact and quarantining: we continue to have a large number of students and staff members unable to attend in-person learning and work because of the fact that educators/ district staff are not designated as essential employees under current New York State Department of Health guidance, which forces them to quarantine even if they are not showing symptoms.
Despite the CDC reducing the number of days for quarantining to 7-10 days, the NYSDOH is still requiring a 14-day quarantining window.
Social gatherings are still occurring outside of school, which bring new positive cases into our school district.
The influx of parent and family requests that want to move their children from in-person hybrid learning to a 100-percent full virtual model.
Over this last week our number of total positive cases in our schools increased to 39 and the number of students and staff that have had to quarantine as a result was over 100 between our four school buildings.
Therefore, I have made the difficult decision to move our school district to 100-percent Virtual Remote Learning effective immediately and through the upcoming winter break. I will monitor and reassess this decision and I will provide families an update prior to our return on Monday, Jan. 4th.
Moving our entire district to 100-percent Virtual Remote Learning will give us the ability to focus primarily on one mode of teaching and learning and allow us to prepare for updated guidance from New York State that prioritizes safe in-person learning for all. Families of children who receive specialized instruction and various mandated therapy will be contacted by the district with options for teletherapy and targeted support. BOCES Career Technical Education students will also attend their program virtually. This does not impact out-of-district placements and students who attend BOCES Alternative Academy and ITP programs. For the majority of our students this equates to the loss of five in-person learning days over the course of the next 12 school days.
The district will continue to provide daily breakfast and lunch for pick up at Jackson Primary and John Kennedy from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. during this period.
It is also important to remind you that if we are to return to any form of in-person learning that we still need parents and guardians to fill out our consent form located here. To date, we only have 483 (24 percent) of in-person learning families who have given consent. Please know that if and when we are designated a color zone, that random testing will be required and only families who give consent will be able to attend in-person learning.
At a time where we should be focused on celebrating an upcoming winter break and spending time with our families, I know that this decision will impact many of you negatively and that is not my intent. Ultimately, my intent and one of my main responsibilities as your Superintendent, is to always protect the physical and mental health and safety of our students, staff and community.
If you have any additional questions or concerns please feel free to call your child’s school for support.
Students and staff have adjusted well to very stressful circumstances, Batavia Middle School Principal Ashley John Grillo told trustees Monday night at the Batavia City Schools board meeting.
Grillo provided the board with a regularly scheduled report about the status of his school concentrating on adjustments caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Students are wearing masks, not complaining about guidelines," Grillo said. "They've really done an outstanding job of adapting to the new guidelines for this year. I'm really proud of that. They deserve the biggest round of applause because they're really the ones most affected the most by the whole thing."
Grillo gave his report before two staff members tested positive for COVID-19 requiring 50 students who had close contact into mandatory quarantine for two weeks.
There are 127 students whose parents chose 100-percent virtual learning for this school year, Grillo said.
In the cohorts that are splitting time between virtual learning and attending classes, with 246 in the first cohort and 208 in the second. There are also 78 students who are on campus every day.
Teachers conduct online classes that are dedicated to that role, Grillo said, with none doing both online learning and in-class learning.
"We decided to do that at the middle school level," Grillo said. "We didn't want to overwhelm the kids or overwhelm the teachers."
During the first two weeks of school, the emphasis was on getting students accustomed to being back in school after six months away from the classroom environment and getting them familiar with the new routines.
Homeroom has also been extended. In the past, homeroom has lasted 10 to 15 minutes before the first period. It's been extended to accommodate a video stream into the classrooms for morning announcements. The students get help getting their assignments and schedules organized for the day. They turn in their lunch orders. And there is some theme that primes them for learning. In the first weeks, it was Hispanic culture, then anti-bullying, and now veterans are being highlighted with students and staff providing photos of veterans from their families for the video stream.
"It helps them get their day organized and start on the right foot," Grillo said.
There is a team of teachers dedicated to social and emotional learning who meet regularly to review the school's progress and needs. There are also activities on campus for staff, such as yoga and meditation and team-building activities.
"This is not an easy job and we're trying to find ways to balance that," Grillo said.
There are also regular faculty meetings and training that focuses on professional learning. They're also working on better ways to track student progress and identify students who need extra attention.
"We do that every year," Grillo said, "But we're not letting this year hinder us. We're continuing to improve our process."
A 3-percent pay raise for City School's Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr. was primarily a cost-of-living adjustment, a couple of members of the board of education told The Batavian in response to a set of emailed questions.
But not all board members responded to the request for comment.
Not responding were:
Trustee Tanni Bromley provided the most detailed response.
During the annual review process, the Board approved the raise of Mr. Soler after thorough discussion during the executive session. The Board felt it was justified for a few reasons which included cost of living increase, the longevity bonus would support and promote Mr. Soler's tenure in education. And finally, the Board did feel that Mr. Soler provided a well-structured plan for our district's reopening.
The Board always takes the public's thoughts and feelings into account when making such decisions however it is also known that our decisions will not please every community member. Our objective always remains to provide our kids with the best educational experience possible, especially during these difficult and unprecedented times.
The board approved the raise for Soler, lifting his annual pay from $160,000 to $164,800, unanimously near the end of the same meeting where Soler outlined a looming financial crisis for the school district. The governor's office is withholding at least 20 percent of state funding because of the pandemic and that could lead to a revenue shortfall of more than $5.4 million.
The seeming incongruity of the revenue discussion and the board approving a raise for Soler was questioned by members of the local community, so The Batavian asked each board member to provide their individual reasons for approving the raise.
Board President Alice Ann Benedict first responded:
As per School law, we discuss any employee issues in executive session. We had an in-depth discussion. We then put it on the agenda under consent items and voted on the raise. It is a cost of living increase. Three percent of $160,000 is $4,800.
In an attempt to get Benedict to expand on her answer, The Batavian, in a response email, noted that state law allows elected officials to discuss personnel matters in executive session (what some call "secret session") but doesn't require personnel matters be discussed behind closed doors, nor does state law prohibit elected officials from publically discussing their thoughts on matters taken up in executive session.
In a subsequent email, Benedict said the board held a thorough, in-depth discussion about the raise in closed session.
In a follow-up, we asked Benedict about the size of the raise -- 3 percent -- when the inflation rate in 2020 has been less than 1 percent and the consumer price index in 2019 was less than 2 percent.
"We choose a combination of cost of living, merit, and equity," Benedict said. "This was all decided during a very lengthy executive session meeting."
Peter Cecere apologized for the delayed response because of a significant family matter. He again cited that the discussion was an executive session matter:
All decisions we arrive at are done with the utmost of thought and consideration from all angles and all sides. Many times not easy and often very laborious.
Rest assured we negotiated as a group, of one voice, and consent.
In response, The Batavian again noted that as a matter of law, he is not prohibited from discussing his decision to support a raise. We got no response.
John Marucci also apologized for a delayed response, citing long hours at work, and said:
What I can tell you is that any and all decisions made by the board of education are discussed thoroughly and we come together as a group on decisions that are made. Anything that is discussed in executive session is confidential.
In response, The Batavian again informed Marucci that we were seeking his individual thoughts on the raise and that state law does not prohibit him from answering questions for the public about matters discussed in executive session. He did not respond.
As for Anibal Soler Jr., he acknowledges that the optics of the raise being approved at a meeting where he spoke about the revenue issue -- the executive session where the raise was discussed was at a prior meeting -- don't look good, but he pointed out that:
His contract includes an annual raise;
The board was supposed to approve a raise for him in July but Soler asked that the matter be delayed because he was busy dealing with pandemic-related issues in the district;
Every bargaining unit in the district, the various unions, and other individual administrators have contracts that mandate annual raises. "Should I be the only one to go without a raise?" he said.
Yes, he said, the timing of the meeting, the optics, do not look good but the district, he said, is facing such a serious revenue shortfall that forgoing a $4,800 raise isn't going to fill in the hole.
He said last year he offered to skip a raise if all the other bargain units would forego their raises and the unions didn't take him up on the offer.
Alice Ann Benedict is in only her fourth month as president of the Board of Education for Batavia city schools but she's already looking to make a significant change to a board policy that she said has bothered her for a long time.
Under the previous leadership of Pat Burk, who resigned suddenly over the summer, if a member of the public came to a board meeting and asked a question, Burk would inform the speaker, "We don't answer questions from the public."
Benedict wants to provide the public with public answers to board questions.
She brought the issue to the board's attention at Monday's meeting and Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr. suggested after the board discussion that the board hold off on changing the policy until staff can formalize the language and make a recommendation.
If the board adopts Benedict's suggestion, the district will offer a form on the district's website where members of the public could ask questions of the board. If the question is submitted prior to a set deadline -- such as 5 p.m. on the Thursday before the board's Monday meeting -- then either the board president or the superintendent would prepare an answer. At the next board meeting, during the "public speaks" portion of the agenda, the question and answer would be read aloud.
Currently, Benedict said, if a question is sent to the district, either she or Soler answer it and the board never sees the question unless Benedict forwards it to them. Benedict would like the entire board to be informed of questions from the public.
During COVID-19 restrictions, members of the public are not attending meetings but once restrictions are lifted, Benedict wants the board to have in place a policy that would allow members of the public to ask questions. If questions are submitted in advance, they will be answered at the meeting. If not, the board president or superintendent will answer the question at a subsequent meeting.
Benedict expressed concern that some people, like herself, are not "quick on their feet" when it comes to answering questions, which is why she wants a built-in delay on answering questions so there is time for research and consideration.
"I always felt like before when I was on the board, I never liked the idea that if a community member took time to come to the board to make a comment or ask a question, we would never answer," Benedict said. "We would never answer the question. That really bothered me."
At first, Trustee Shawna Murphy seemed a little confused by the suggestion, noting that the public has always been allowed to speak at meetings. After Benedict spoke more about her idea, Murphy said, "sounds beautiful."
Soler said it usually takes two readings for the board to adopt a new policy. He said the policy should incorporate best practices for dealing with public speakers and also suggested the policy should mimic what he said other districts do, which requires public speakers to sign up to speak hours in advance of the meeting "so people can't come and disrupt the meeting."
Batavia city schools are looking at a nearly $5.5 million revenue shortfall in the current fiscal year due to the global pandemic that has caused an economic retraction, and dealing with that shortfall is likely to mean the district needs to cut services and personnel, Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr. informed school board members on Monday night.
Soler told the board that state aid has been cut by 20 percent, or $425,000, so far. The state says it is "withholding" the funds but there's no guarantee the funds will be backfilled, nor that there won't be more "withholding" during the remainder of the year.
The state is facing a $16 billion budget shortfall and the deficit over the next four years is expected to grow to $66 billion.
That doesn't bode well for the future of school funding, Soler said.
The superintedent said he was trying to present the board and the community with a realistic picture of the situation the district finds itself in through no fault of its own.
"If we don’t sound the alarm now and it gets sounded for us, we may be seen as not being as transparent as we can," Soler said.
While a lot of people suggest cutting things like supplies and materials, that's only 2 percent of the school district's budget. The biggest portion of the budget goes to payroll and benefits -- about 70 percent, so if it becomes necessary to cut spending, that will be the area where the district can make up much of the projected shortfall.
"At $5.4 million, you start doing the math and that's a significant number of services or employees we have to change," Soler said.
The total district budget is $51,470,726 and is supported by $27,477,066.
The unknowns at this point is: Whether there will be a round of 20-percent withholding in August and December and whether Congress will at some point approve a stimulus package that includes funding for schools.
Soler said state education officials are leaning heavily on the idea of waiting to see what happens after the election.
If the cuts turn out to be permanent, Soler outline several possible responses:
Cut teacher aides to four days a week for a savings of $301,210;
Cut custodial work to four days a week for a savings of $246,126;
Go to 100-percent remote learning to cut transportation costs by $576,000;
Eliminate activities such as music for a savings of $143,551;
Cutting athletics could save $284,089;
Increasing class size to 28 pupils per teacher, the maximum allowed by the current union contract, could save $630,000;
Eliminating non-mandated staff, such as teachers for elective courses, non-graduation requirement courses, extra librarians, some tutors and counselors, an administrator, and some aides, could lead to another $3 million in savings;
Eliminating the school resource officer would save $54,000.
What to cut and how much is a matter of priorities and a balancing act, Soler said. For example, eliminating transportation would mean a cut in state aid for transportation in future years.
Also on the table for discussion, Soler said, is a dramatic tax increase. He took notice of the possible 89-percent property tax increase in the Town of Batavia as an example of the tough budget choices the pandemic is forcing on local governments.
"Obviously, I'm not saying that's our approach but we're probably not going to be able to come out of this with no tax increase," Soler said. "It's tough because they're (property owners) are also struggling with these economic conditions."
Board Member Shawna Murphy wondered out loud why the idea of a tax increase was such a heinous idea. She suggested most people in Batavia could handle a tax increase.
Another board member spoke up (it was hard to identify the speaker on the livestream of the meeting) and said many older residents have already put their children and their grandchildren through school and now live on a fixed income. She was hesitant to burden them with a tax increase.
"I have more concern for the older property owner," she said. "Their home is the last thing they're clinging to and we're asking them to make quite a sacrifice when they have no children in the system."
The district does have about $1.75 million in reserves but that money will run out quickly if other action isn't taken, Soler said.
The district will know much more about its financial situation by the Nov. 23 board meeting, Soler said. Until then, he said, the district needs to remain "stay the course and remain Batavia Strong" and study its options.
On another budget item, the board unanimously approved an amendment to the superintendent's contract that granted Soler a $4,800 annual raise, bringing his compensation to $164,800 per year. The board did not discuss the salary increase prior to the vote.
In March, school districts were forced to quickly throw together a remote learning plan with the pandemic forced students to stay home, but after a summer to prepare, the Batavia City School District has developed a more comprehensive plan to educate children in the age of coronavirus.
Molly Corey, executive director of Curriculum and Instruction, outlined the virtual learning guidelines for the 2020/21 school year for members of the city schools' board of trustees on Monday night.
At the heart of the plan, Corey said, is SEL -- social and emotional learning.
"There is a variety of feelings around everything we're doing," Corey said. "We want to make people comfortable with what we do."
SEL is, according to the virtual learning guidebook, "the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions."
Corey said SEL includes self-awareness, self-management, being responsible for decision-making, social awareness, and developing relationship skills.
The other key elements to the learning plan include communication, instructional time, and feedback.
About 75 percent of the district's students will split time between virtual learning and in-class instruction, while the parents for 20 percent of the students have chosen virtual-only learning. The remaining 5 percent are students with special needs who will be on campus every day.
The guidebook includes a chart that highlights the differences between the hastily compiled plan for distance learning last spring and the more thoughtful plan for the new school year.
For example, "teacher check-ins" is now "Teacher-led instruction with SEL as the cornerstone of what we do," and the flexibility of daily and weekly requirements has been replaced by a scheduled and planned school day.
"Monitored attendance" becomes "attendance taken daily."
Students, and their parents, will now be expected to focus grade level/course standards using pacing guidelines.
While there were no formal assessments given last spring and grades were credit/no credit, this year will include scheduled assessments and grades and "growth-producing feedback."
All students will have a Chromebook. Middle school and high school students will use Google Classroom, while younger students will be introduced to a new program for online learning called "Seesaw."
To make all this work, communication will be key, Corey said. Teachers have to produce written communication plans for the school year to ensure students and parents have a clear idea of the process, expectations, standards and progress.
"I want parents to know that this is really a true partnership," Corey said. "To make this work, we need them with us."
Due to Genesee County declaring a countywide state of emergency, Batavia City School District will remain closed until further notice, including all school-based activities.
However, the District is taking steps to do whatever it can to support our students and our families during this unprecedented time of uncertainty.
Our nutritional services department will be providing free “grab and go” breakfast and lunch bags for all students (and all household family members under the age of 18). These will be distributed each school day from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. by the entrance of all District building properties, including the Robert Morris building, as pictured and as described here:
Jackson: Pick up will be from the loop in front of the building (via Jackson Street);
JK: Pick up will be in the parent loop (Vine Street);
MS: Pick up will be on the side of the building; Please enter via Walker Place;
HS: Pick up will be from the loop in front of the school (State Street);
RM: Bus loop on side of the building (Union Street).
If this arrangement for food distribution poses a challenge for your family, please call your child’s school’s main office. The number for all District offices is 343-2480, then add the appropriate extension for your school building as follows: Jax is ext. 4000, JK is ext. 5000, BMS is ext. 3000, BHS is ext. 2000).
In addition, the District is collaborating with community partners about additional resources regarding food distribution and will provide updates as they become available.
Instructional information for students is also being made available so that students can continue to engage in their studies as much as possible.
All students, K-12 will have access to materials through the COVID-19 tab on our website, or through this direct link. In addition, Jackson Primary and John Kennedy will be providing paper packets for K-4 students that will be distributed with the “grab and go” breakfast/lunch bags.
Please continue to check our Facebook page and website. We will be providing updates as they become available. In addition, if you have specific questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us by email, the “Let’s Talk” app accessed through our website, or a phone call to the appropriate office or building.
For further guidance and recommendations for staying healthy and protecting yourself, your family, and others during this outbreak, please consult the attached document about "social distancing" as well as these helpful guidelines and information sources:
When I started my tenure as your Superintendent of Schools I never thought that within my first two months we would be dealing with a pandemic and being forced to close schools until further notice. These are definitely new and constantly evolving times for our students, families, staff, community, and nation. Please know that the decision to close schools is never an easy one as our schools are the support and gateway to resources for our kids and families.
Please know that we're working closely with public health experts and while we don't have a confirmed case in Genesee County as of yet – a State of Emergency was declared for our region last night. We believe with proper healthy habits and social distancing that many of us remain at low risk for contracting COVID-19.
What is social distancing you might ask? It is the practice of reducing close contact between people to slow the spread of infections or diseases. Social distancing measures include limiting large groups of people coming together, closing buildings and canceling events.
Therefore, the guidance is that if we close schools, we will be able to slow down a community spread and assist our public health system in being able to test, treat and slow down the spread of COVID-19.
The BCSD Leadership Team and I met today, and we have developed the following Closure Plan that will be in place effective Monday, March 16, 2020. Phase One of the plan focuses primarily on food distribution, instructional resources, staff reporting, and facility access.
Closure Plan: Phase One
· Food Distribution: “Grab and Go” breakfast and lunch will be available for students and family members under the age of 18, from 9 a.m. - 12 p.m., Monday through Friday at the front entrances of Batavia High School, Batavia Middle School, John Kennedy Intermediate School, Jackson Primary School, and Robert Morris. We are also currently working with community partners and agencies on providing late afternoon/ evening meal options.
· Instructional Resources: Teachers have prepared instructional lessons and activities for students to stay engaged with schoolwork while school is not in session. Please visit the following link to access your school’s Closure Resources: https://www.bataviacsd.org/Page/7546
· Staff Reporting: All essential staff will report to allow us to answer school phones, clean buildings, distribute meals and support any questions or concerns.
· Facility and Building Access: Teachers and High School students will be afforded an opportunity on Monday, March 16th to come in and pick up any personal items or classroom materials they will need during this closure period. Specific communication regarding this opportunity will come directly from school Principals.
The district has also created a COVID-19 webpage that will list a variety of resources and information on our district website. I would encourage you to check the website and our Batavia City Schools Facebook page regularly for ongoing updates.
Please be assured that the Batavia City School District will continue to act out of an abundance of caution to protect everyone’s health and well-being. We will monitor our Closure Plan on a weekly basis and look to make necessary adjustments as needed to support our students, families and staff.
I know we will get through this together!
WE are BATAVIA!!! #BetterTogetherBatavia
Anibal Soler Jr. Superintendent Batavia City Schools