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June 8, 2011 - 6:42am

Public begs for city schools' Suzuki Strings program to be saved

posted by WBTA News in music, Board of Education.

Apparently, there are some strings attached to the retirement of Cindy Baldwin from Batavia City Schools.

Cello and violin strings, specifically.

A 38-year veteran of the Batavia music program, Baldwin is finally calling it quits. And she’s taking her popular and highly successful Suzuki Strings program with her. The program is based on the Suzuki method of teaching, which puts the onus on the parent to push their child to learn to play an instrument.

Baldwin is a Suzuki member teacher. But the board of education is proposing to replace her, her method, and her high level of training on string instruments, with a trio of vocal teachers. They will attempt to learn the basics of string instruments this summer, so as to teach them to students next school year.

“We are planning on having elementary strings continue,” explained John Kennedy Principal Paul Kesler. “In order to do that, there will no longer be individual lessons for students. It will be group sizes of two to three. Students will have the opportunity to begin strings at third grade.” (Currently, students as young as kindergarten can begin the strings training.)

Parents who have seen their young children excel in music are shocked, and angry.

“I don’t see how you possibly can maintain the strings program, by having other people pick up the slack,” said Terry Kolb, who has at least two grandchildren in the district. “You’re never going to replace Cindy Baldwin.”

Kolb’s 8-year-old granddaughter, Kennedy Kolb, also spoke to the board. She is in second grade.

“I just want to say: cello is the world to me,” Kennedy said. “This is my life. And you’re taking it all away.”

Mother Cheri Kolb said she’d written a letter to the board and Superintendent Margaret Puzio, with no response (Kolb forwarded the letter to The Batavian on Monday).

“The Batavia City School District, at every opportunity, publicly sings the praises of the enrichment programs they offer,” she said. “And quietly behind the scenes, every enrichment program is being whittled away, bit by bit.”

District Business Manager Scott Rozanski confirmed to WBTA News that the cuts will not change now, since they are the same cuts that would be included in a contingency budget. The only difference between the two remaining options is that the proposed budget would allow citizens to use district facilities free of penalty. Under a contingency budget, any citizen use of district facilities that constituted a cost would have to be charged for.

The contingency budget would be adopted, if the proposed budget is rejected again by voters on June 21.

At the close of the public hearing, Board President Andrew Pedro made the point that this discussion over the music program wouldn’t even be happening if the first budget had been approved.

“We had something like 960 people vote on the first budget,” Pedro said. “We have 2,500 kids in our district – if every parent showed up and voted yes, we wouldn’t be in this situation.

“We have kids in this district, too, so I hear what you’re saying. But it’s up to the parents to get out and vote.”

Board President Andrew Pedro watches the budget presentation

Photos by Geoff Redick of WBTA.

Lori Silvernail
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Most of my fondest memories of my school years revolve around my participation in the orchestra. I began lessons in third grade with Mr. John Bobka. My 2 older sisters and my younger brother and I ALL played stringed instruments and can't even imagine my life without that early start and exposure to classical music. String players never got any respect because there were so few of us. Parents would be screaming from the rafters if football, soccer, track, volleyball, or BAND was being cut. And seriously, a vocal teacher can not teach a stringed instrument. They may understand music, but handling a violin, viola, cello, or bass is a very skilled task. I hope the parents can find a way to get this turned around. Once again, let's hurt the kids...
Phil Ricci
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It is a shame, Lori. There are a lot of tough decisions that have to be made, but it shouldn't be at the program level. It's time that the county comes together and looks at the future of education. When I lived in NJ, I attended school in the Freehold Regional School District. It consisted of the towns of Freehold Boro, Freehold Township, Manalapan Township, Howell Township, Morlboro Township, Jackson Township and Colts Neck Township. They had one central district office and everything from logistics to admin was done there. The building principals worked on their budget needs and filtered up, much like how it works now. Genesee County has roughly 58000 residents, and BCSD has 2500 kids. My high school alone had more kids than this entire district. If you include the three elementary schools and the middle school in Freehold Township alone, we had what is equivilent to the size of all of the school districts in Genesee county. Yet we were still a part of a larger district. Things like capacity and logistic planning need to be addressed now. Can we combined high schools? Can Oakfield HS merge with Batavia? Elba and B/B? Do we need three neighborhood elementary schools anymore in Batavia, or should we drop to 2? These are tough questions, but it's time to not only ask them, but act upon them. What I do not think we should accept is the reduction of programs for our kids because the state has created a flawed system. I will not take things away from our kids because we have too many district offices. Batavia is the central hub for Genesee and also have the largest infrastructure. It is not only logical for us to merge, but it's quickly becoming essential.
Dave Olsen
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It's like Mr. Pedro said, only around 960 people showed up to vote. Voting, on anything civic related is a RESPONSIBILITY. Not many cared to understand THEIR budget or vote one way or the other on it. Now there's dismay. You get the government you deserve.
Chris Charvella
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I don't see why Genesee County can't consolidate districts. Divide the county up into zones based on population, we could operate on three or even two school districts. The money people would save on top end administration alone would allow us to pump money back into actual education or lower school taxes a bit. I honestly don't mind the current tax rate if we're spending the money to improve the quality of education I'd suggest an eastern and western district: District 1: Oakfield, Elba, Batavia District 2: Leroy, Byron-Bergen, Pavilion, Alexander
Howard B. Owens
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Chris, what about Pembroke?
C. M. Barons
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Why think small? All of the districts mentioned are within the Genesee Valley BOCES. The BOCES district includes Genesee, Wyoming and Livingston Counties. Tie the whole thing together in a super district with administration split between Batavia and Mt. Morris.
Phil Ricci
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I would say District 1 by this logic. I still think we should have just 1 district.
Chris Charvella
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I knew i was forgetting someone...Put Pembroke in district 1 and move Elba to district 2.
Chris Charvella
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One issue I see with doing the way I suggested is that we'd have to district out the school board. It wouldn't be proper to have the entire school board be Batavia residents. Is districting a school board legal? Anyone know?
Phil Ricci
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It's no different than what BOCES has now. Each area would have a representative.
C. M. Barons
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You also forgot Attica...
Dave Olsen
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This is the county I lived in for 9 years in MD. They have a county School District, 1 Superintendent and a principal at each school. Not perfect by any means, just an example. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cecil_County,_Maryland http://www.ccps.org/ property taxes were a lot less than here, $ 850.00 there, $ 2,100.00 here. I had a larger house but less land than I do here in NY. Both are very rural, no water or sewer. Sales tax was 5% in 2007 when we moved back to NY, don't know what it is now. House and property were worth a lot more in MD. So it's a bit of trade-off. Cecil County was named for Cecil Calvert 2nd Earl of Baltimore. Loads of history, friends of ours had an original Mason-Dixon marker on their property.
Chris Charvella
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Attica's in Wyoming County
Cheri Kolb
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Dave, are you suggesting that it is our civic responsibility to vote for a budget that we don't have faith in? Could it be possible that the budge was defeated not because of the tax increase it created but more because of the content of the budget itself? Allowing vital programs to be killed off that directly affect students while preserving the salary increases of administrators. Very broken system I fear and our children pay the ultimate price, and what about our children, did they get the government they deserve?
Mark Potwora
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Phil and Chris great idea...lets all hope that egos don't get in the way and this can happen..It's like Charlie Mallow always said ..They all try to project there little fiefdoms and nothing ever progresses...It goes for city town and school districts..all want to keep there piece of the pie and to hell with what good for all.....
Chris Charvella
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Phil, what do you say? We can both run for school board next time around. We'll buy signs and everything ;)
Phil Ricci
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I doubt very much that was the case Cheri. With all respect but 900 plus people that voted were not apart of the budget process. I would in fact bet large money that most of the 900 plus people that voted couldn't tell you very much in the slightest about what was even in the budget. No, people voted no on two factors: Tax increase and anger. The problem that I have isn't that the budget got voted down, it's that so few people realize that the "Very broken system" was not caused by the Administrators or school board members of Batavia, NY. It has been created by a NY State and Federal government that has inflated, mandated and now is underfunding. Batavia Schools didn't create the state pension and retirement fund, but is bound by law to fund it. Batavia Schools didn't create the additional administrative positions that No Child Left Behind commands, but that have to maintain them even though they were never funded by all the money the Bush Administration promised. I am so with you that our kids, my kids, will suffer from these cuts, but I don't blame these people. I blame the state. Now, we have a governor that wants to cap taxes. Great, but that doesn't fix the mandates, the pension system or anything else! What we need to do now is figure out a way to play where we can play. We cannot affect so much!
Phil Ricci
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Ha! You got it Chris. Talk about Bi-Partisanship!
Chris Charvella
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We can spend all our time having epic fights over whether we should have one district or two.
John Roach
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Mark, with next years budget and a probable tax cap, it's also time to decide what is really important to be taught. True, the state mandates things, but maybe it's time for the school districts to take the state to court over some unfunded mandates. We can all probably agree that English, Mathematics, Grammar and at least basic science be taught. Second language (Spanish, French, etc), Music, Art, while worthy are not core subjects. Do you cut math or music? How much and what kind of physical education is really needed. What can be contracted out? Can janitorial service, food service, and even security be done by others at less cost?
Cheri Kolb
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Phil, points well taken. It is possible however, to make concessions to save programs...that wasn't done here.
Phil Ricci
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I like it Chris! Cheri, They did. That budget was shot down. The contigency budget requires programs like these to go unfunded. This budget that is being proposed is a compromise budget of contingency and the one that failed. I hate it, but this is where we're at.
Dave Olsen
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I'm suggesting, Cheri that a lot of people don't get involved until it's too late. The majority of the voting public doesn't pay attention at the local, state or national level, until something they don't like is a law or policy, then the squawkin' begins. If you can't find time or energy to get involved, then you get what someone else wants. Children suffer the sins of their parents. Sucks, but it's true.
Phil Ricci
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John, I will not even entertain a conversation where we have to debate if art and music are important. I will just not send my kids to school and move out of the area. I won't be alone either. I will not see my kids be given less of a chance than yours were because you want lower taxes. If we are going to sue the state it should be over the need for the local residents to fully fund pension systems. Almost 17% of every dollar spent goes to it. Why should our kids go without because the state created this mess? Please remember John that not all kids grow up to be mathematicians or scientists. Are we now taking on the who "It's not responsibility to help your kid grow" perspective? Because if so I'm gonna go ahead and need you to return your education back to us. You got it, they get it. Programs should not be cut because this state is a mess.
John Roach
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Phil, I never said art and music are not important (read more carefully), but if you are going to cut teachers and programs, which Batavia is doing right now, then which ones are core subjects that must not be cut? Sorry, but I think basic math, reading, basic grammar and science are too important to cut. Again, if it is between basic math and music, I pick basic math. Nice to have both, but made to pick, I have to go with core subjects. Also, you of all people having been a budget ambassador, should know there are many mandates imposed by the state. If they are a burden, then a joint effort in court might be the answer. And in case you missed it, the retirement system has been reformed with another reform being considered. But they don't take affect overnight. And to say "programs should not be cut" is nice. But they are being cut. So Phil,which ones?
Mark Potwora
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This question goes out to Phil Chris and John..Could any of you educate me on what the state mandates..and why are these mandates so bad for education and cause such a high tax rate..does the state dictate how much we pay teachers and administrators...Thats all us tax payers hear is what the state mandates but never has it been explained what these mandates are..
Dave Olsen
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I can remeber Phil Ricci coming on this same website last winter darn near begging people to come to the budget meetings. Few did. Phil said they wanted parents, and community members to come and say what's important to them. What else should the baord and the administrators think besides "guess they want us to make decisions for them." I apologize for using the word "Sins" earlier, I don't want another religion discussion! Let's go with A child suffers his parents indifference.
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If the tax cap passes, which it looks like it will, Batavia schools will have to cut $1 million from its budget. You will see school consolidation, larger class sizes and music, art, ACE programs and other non mandated state programs eliminated and more positions cut.
Dave Olsen
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John, almost anything up to and including everything could be privatized. I'm trying to think of a school function that couldn't and I can't. To the parents of the children taking the lessons from Mrs. Baldwin, how about a free market solution: get together and find out how much an instructor would cost. It should be a lot cheaper if the instructor knew they could come to the school and have enough students to spend the day. then just pay per lesson.
Phil Ricci
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Mark, A lot of people like to make the claim that these are fallacies that the unions use. In actuality it's a lovely combination. The state pension system which has been in place for decades used to be directly funded with state funds. (Yes I know they are all our funds, but they weren't direct to our local levy) That stopped years ago. Also, when the stock markets tanked, it was placed on the local levies to make up the difference. NCLB dictated that all Special education programs be increased to encompass a larger group of kids. They funded a 36% overall increase, yet the actual costs averaged 68% increases across the state. Further NCLB demanded increases to ELA and other curriculum so that it would fall in line with their new testing models. They however did not provide the aid to bring on those additional teachers or admin. Those are just a few.
Phil Ricci
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John, It's not a matter of cutting those programs to me until we exhaust the opportunities I have already mentioned. We have no idea what consolidating into a single could save. We have no idea what eliminating an elementary could save. We have a new teacher's contract coming up. We need a reasonable negotiation from all involved. The tax caps will make things even harder, and frankly worst. At the end of the day John, if it comes down to eliminating classes like Art and Music to keep the doors open, then my tax dollars will be better spent else where. I refuse to believe that it has to come to that.
John Roach
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Phil, this article tells you it has come to that, starting next year.
Mark Potwora
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thanks Phil..It does always seems that it is the cry we hear from city county and school that its the mandates we have to live under and that is why we are doing what we are doing and why we are raising your taxes..
Phil Ricci
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John, This article also doesn't tackle the topics that I have been discussing. Going straight for programs without first trying everything else is irresponsible. I've known how bad it was going to be for years and have been saying it on here. Instead of this community getting involved, they've stayed apathetic. No one cared about the future when the tax was going up 1% or less the past few years. Now that there is a raise, and programs are on the line people show up. I will NOT pay to live in a town that will cut the arts away because it's not a "core" program. The state, it's rules, the long lasting pension system and everything else that put us here is not my kids fault. I will not see their education lessened because people are fed up. There are options still. Mean options, but I would rather see a building close, or administrations consolidated then tell my kids that they can't have art or music.
Phil Ricci
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Sure Mark! The bottom line is this state has made a mess of everything, and it is going to take a lot more than a pretty sounding property tax cap gimmick to fix it. Its' more than reform too, it's a damn do-over!
C. M. Barons
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I agree, Attica is in Wyoming County, but I believe part of the Attica SD includes Gen Co.
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I think it's pretty simple, if the state mandates a condition or item, yet fails to support with with the funds necessary then they should remove it. We all know where the fat lies in these districts. What state mandate makes it necessary for the Pembroke Superintendant to have a salary bigger than the President of GCC or the Govenor of the entire state. I mean come on look at the amount of students vs his workload, something very fishy here. Not to mention his attitude, last school board metting I hear he showed up in his brand new sportscar, showing it off..... Pretty cocky if you ask me. This is just one example, while people in this county struggle to make ends meet and neglect medical care because of affordability, you have these supers making unreal amounts of money and getting free health insurance. Reality has been skewed way out of proportion for this to continue. They dont have to cut these programs, they choose to so it will get a reaction from the public, basically saying you approve our budgets or we will punish you. Either way I say we still vote no, if the program goes on either contingency or their budget, then send them a message we wont be pushed around.
Phil Ricci
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Pembroke is not Batavia, Kyle. I agree that some of the salaries are insane, (Pavilion's Super make $250K?!) but that is not the case in Batavia. Kyle says, Reality has been skewed way out of proportion for this to continue. They dont have to cut these programs, they choose to so it will get a reaction from the public, basically saying you approve our budgets or we will punish you. How do you know this? Were you apart of the budget process? If so, what should they have done?
Mark Potwora
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seems like from what i have been reading the only thing that isn't mandated by the state it wages and benefits of all school employee's..Teachers and Administrator which amount to 75% of the budget,so the place to cut is in that area..Save the programs but cut some these wages..Remember we are only talking a 9 month job..I don't understand why the Business Administrator is a all year around job for one..Give that person some other job also...
John Roach
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If we vote yes to the new proposed budget, I personally think we will continue to get more of the same, so I will vote NO on June 21st. And next year, with 3 seats up on the School Board, I hope to see new people elected.
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Here are some things that could have been removed to make budget easier to swallow.no more cell phones for Admin.,get rid of truck for B&G super.,get rid of security officer,close admin building and consolidate to high school,duplicate sports teams,lunches provided to admin. During meetings,lunches for teachers correcting tests,unnessary trips ,and at least one if not two admin. Jobs.,and charge every outside user a fee to cover exspences
Cheri Kolb
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I have to agree with many of the posts I am reading from today, however, unlike the Vandetta stadium vote, which DID send a very clear message, voting down the budget will not change the harsh reality that the budget will automatically go to the contingency budget (legally it must), and our children will suffer even more than before. I feel strongly that this is wrong, but we must institute change in other constructive ways...ie, the seats on the BOE that will become vacant. As frustrated as many people are coming from the position of taxpayer...it is equally as frustrating as a parent to see this budget being voted down even before the poles open and to know what that is going to mean for my kids. Make changes, but voting down this budget is not the way to do it.
Mark Potwora
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I just read that Batavia is ranked 70th out of 100 schools in western ny..Notre Dame was 10th...Maybe its time for a change at the top..
Phil Ricci
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I couldn't agree more Cheri. I find it interesting that most of the people who are pushing for that: A. Are giving themselves an even larger tax increase and B. Don't have children in the schools. Regardless, it all seems to go back to what I said before. No one really seemed to care much with tax rate was staying put or going up less 1%, but now that there is an issue, everyone's so mad that they'll vote it down. Mark my word though right here and now Cheri, Come next year all the ferver in the world will not be enough to get people involved. There will not be more people at meetings, there will not be more people volunteering as Budget Ambassadors, and there will not be floods of new candidates running for seats. Instead it will be those already serving and maybe on additional. Not to sound cynical, but this is how it's been. Those who are the loudest are usually the most silent when it's time to actually do the work. Like I have said for three years now...I hope that changes.

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