By JIM KEVLIN • Special to ALLOTSEGO.COM
COOPERSTOWN – With “hundreds of thousands” more in required spending on health insurance next year, Cooperstown Central School Superintendent Bill Crankshaw and the school board didn’t need to look for places to spend more.
Besides, he said in an interview about the 2019-20 budget, which goes up for a public vote 7 a.m-8 p.m., next Tuesday, May 21, at the high school, the school district already offers a “rich curriculum” – the goal is to maintain it and look for places to strengthen it.
“We can’t afford to take on any new initiatives for their own sake,” Crankshaw said.
There are two new focuses, however:
• One, “early learning.” In the past few years, then number of youngsters coming into kindergarten unprepared has sharply increased – in a separate interview, Oneonta City Schools Superintendent Joe Yelich observed the same thing – and it’s essential to bring those children up to speed quickly, particularly in reading, or they can’t succeed in subsequent grades.
• Two, “social and emotional wellness” in the high-school, particularly with students being buffeted about by social media. And with substance abuse, particularly a problematic arrival, “vaping.” To target this, the district shifted from contracting with BOCES for a “behavioral specialist,” to hiring a full-time in-house counselor.
“That’s where we’re going to reap the most rewards,” Crankshaw said.
Two school board vacancies, uncontested, are also up for election in May 21 vote. Mary B. Leonard, veteran school board member, is retiring, and Wendy Kiuber is running to succeed her. Marielle Ainsworth is running for another term.
The upcoming budget includes a 2.99 percent increase in the tax levy, the limit allowed by state law without a super-majority vote of a school board. (The local board, Crankshaw said, has made it a policy to stay within that limit.)
Total revenues are projected at $19.8 million, up from $19.7 million this year. The tax levy, which pays for 61 percent of school operations, is expected to rise from $11.9 million to $12.3 million.
Every budget line is down, except those associated with staff, primarily benefits.
The budget is divided into Program, Capital and Administrative costs, and only the third goes down (6.99 percent).
That deduction was possible because of Kristin Butler’s promotion to high school principal, succeeding Interim Principal Jim Brophy. Her former position, director of curriculum, instruction & assessment, was eliminated, because she can apply her skill set directly in her new job, Crankshaw said.
In kindergarten, the first key area of concern, the superintendent said, “kids are coming in with higher needs then they ever were before,” with short attention spans and an inability to sit still. Among other things, with both parents working, it’s hard for them to devote chunks of time instructing pre-schoolers.
To address this, the district created a fourth kindergarten section a couple of years to focus on particularly phonics-focused instruction, essential to advancing up the grade successfully, he said.
(This year that fourth section was maintained, and sixth grade was reduced from four to three).
On the second area, Crankshaw said social media is allowing teenagers to communicate “faster, less thoughtfully, with a lack of responsibility,” and feelings are hurt. “It’s eroding our ability to communicate,” he said.
Another impact on “social and emotional wellness” is “vaping” a new entry that allows students to intake substances – from nicotine to various others drugs – in school undetected.
Vaping is little understood by most parents, and Crankshaw is planning to send a letter to parents shortly advising them of the dangers and methods of detection and treatment.