COOPERSTOWN – The news had leaked out, but ONC BOCES superintendents, including Cooperstown’s Bill Crankshaw and Oneonta’s Tom Brindley, got the news officially at a superintendents’ summit this afternoon:
The school break announced March 13, extended once, will be extended again for another two weeks, until Wednesday, April 29, at least.
More surprising to the school chiefs was the news, delivered to the assembled group by ONC BOCES Superintendent Nick Savin, who had only learned it himself earlier today, was: This year’s Regents exams have been cancelled.
By ELIZABETH COOPER • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
Families across Otsego County are working to adjust to a new normal of “social distancing,” and for many that includes having their school-age children at home.
Fears about the COVID-19 virus and its contagion have brought a massive and rapid change to how we live, and it isn’t yet clear what impacts that will have on routines students and families have lived by for decades.
• How long will the schools remain closed?
• What will happen if students can’t prepare or take state mandated tests?
• Will summer vacation need to be cancelled if students miss two months of school now?
• What will happen to spring athletic programs?
These are some of the questions that still remain unanswered as schools in the Otsego Northern Catskills BOCES and beyond stand shuttered under quarantine restrictions related to the COVID-19 virus.
“Each of the BOCES and each of the schools have to work off-site as much as possible to be congruent with the idea of social distancing as a means to slow the spread of COVID-19,” said ONC BOCES Superintendent Nick Savin. “The main effort right now is to develop a structure in a very different way than we have worked before.”
The decision made late Friday afternoon, March 13, to close for two weeks among the 18 districts that constitute the BOCES group.
Then, on Monday the schools announced they would remain shuttered at least through April 13.
Savin said he and other school officials had been aware for some time that school shutdowns might be necessary, and had been planning. The situation escalated a bit faster than they expected, but they were largely ready, he said.
“I would encourage everyone to adhere to social distancing,” he said, referring to the practice of keeping physically separate from others as much as possible to prevent contagion.
Ensuring that students continue their education, even if they can’t be in school buildings is a primary objective he shares with area school district leaders.
Both Cooperstown Central School District and the Oneonta schools had prepared learning packets for all students by Monday morning, and were distributing them later that day.
CCS Superintendent Bill Crankshaw was outside Cooperstown Elementary Monday, where bins for each grade were set out and filled with packets bearing each child’s name.
The packets for a third-grade class, for instance, included a schedule for 14 days of assignments for every subject, and books for each student to read.
Oneonta Superintendent Thomas Brindley said his schools were doing the same.
“It is moving to see how many of our faculty and staff members are here tonight and the work that has gone into gathering and distributing materials to our students,” Brindley said.
Crankshaw spoke of the complexities of charting a course for his district in this uncertain time. “There are many unknowns at this point,” he said.
He stressed that his primary goal is to ensure the safety of students and staff in the ways that he can. Doing that, however, places schools at odds with the laws that guide teaching programs, he said.
Under the law, New York State schools must provide 180 days of instruction. Governor Cuomo has waived that requirement, but what will the schools need to provide?
“We don’t have a lot of clarity,” Crankshaw said, adding that it’s unlikely these issues will be resolved quickly.
“There is no way we will give state tests as scheduled,” he said. Tests for grades 3 through 8 had been set for late March, but now the schools will be closed during that period.
Regents examinations for high school students, which are required for graduation, are also in limbo, he said.
“We are concerned about preparations for those,” Crankshaw said.
Whatever decisions are made about academics and testing must follow those made by the rest of the state, because they involve established state laws.
“Making decisions unilaterally can be dangerous because you don’t know how they will pan out,” he said. “What is going to be forgiven? What are the grace periods? We have to be protected as a school district from expectations that are, frankly, law.”
Brindley agreed. “We are all waiting for some comprehensive guidance from the state,” he said.
Athletics is another area school districts are concerned about.
“How do we salvage a spring season for our athletes,” Brindley said. “Many of these kids wait all year to play a spring sport. For them to lose it would be unfortunate.”
Both Cooperstown and Oneonta will be providing school lunches and breakfasts for students in the assisted food program.
In Oneonta, each school district will have a food distribution point where two meals will be provided, a lunch for that day and a breakfast for the following day. The schools will continue to observe protocols about allergens in food, such as peanuts, Brindley said.
“We are planning to maintain a meal program for anyone who wants it,” Crankshaw said.
Cooperstown student meals will be available Mondays and Wednesdays between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. outside the high school. The school will deliver meals to any family that cannot pick the meals up themselves.
Over the two days, families can pick up meals for five days’ worth of breakfasts and dinners.
COOPERSTOWN – Matt Phillips, CCS ’02, shared a poignant story of his family’s affection for Redskins (now Hawkeyes) football, and the 200 fans in the CCS high school auditorium applauded.
“If not for football,” said Phillips, today Clark Sports Center’s Activities & Group Reservations director, “I wouldn’t have come to school.”
Cooperstown varsity football has had bad years, for sure, but always rebounded. “My senior year,” he said, “we won one game. My senior year, we were undefeated.”
Today, his daughter Leah plays with the team, continuing a family tradition. “She even talks about playing in the NFL someday.”
The term “Life Births” – a term that floated through the room as the school board contemplated a wide round of cuts to the 2020-21 budget; the budget vote and school elections is May 19 – could trump the fans’ and others’ concerns.
“We are forced to make decisions that don’t feel great,” Superintendent of Schools Bill Crankshaw said that evening: In 2007, there were 1,048 K-12 pupils; today there are 850, a 19 percent drop.
“Life Births” are compiled annually by ONC BOCES Superintendent of Schools Nick Savin for all 19 school district in his purview, nine in Otsego County. Based on the number of births in a district any one year, he projects those numbers forward: for instance, babies born in 2015 will enter kindergarten this fall.
If fewer seniors are graduating in June than kindergarteners are arriving in September – and this goes on year after year – a school district is headed for trouble.
For the 2019-20 school year, CCS has 79 students graduating, and only 50 kindergartners entering, a 37 percent drop, by far the largest among the ONC BOCES schools.
“At base, if you want a school, you have to build housing,” CCS board President Tim Hayes said in an interview, “affordable, quality housing … Until we start to create places for people to live in the community, I’m worried about the future of the community.”
Hayes served on the task force that created the Village of Cooperstown’s new Comprehensive Master Plan, approved last fall, which – to some community concern – allows larger homes to be broken up into apartments.
If there are no exterior changes, sufficient parking and other standards are met, village Zoning Enforcement Officer Jane Gentile can simply issue a permit; a project doesn’t have to go through the H-PARB, planning or zoning boards, said Deputy Mayor Cindy Falk, who has played a central role in the comp plan and resulting zoning code.
Apartment houses – the Railroad Avenue neighborhood, in particular, is designated as appropriate – still require a special permit from the Village Board, she said.
It’s only been a few months since the new zoning was approved, but Falk said she’s unaware of any house conversions or apartment complexes being proposed.
In the 1970s and ’80, Hayes said, homes were being built in the district, but in the 1990s “preserving open space was more important than building houses for people who wanted to live here.” Much of the surrounding towns of Otsego and Middlefield requires three-acre lots, he said.
That may be changing, Hayes said. In addition to Cooperstown’s new zoning, the Town of Hartwick has contracted with Delaware Engineering for a Route 28 study. The study wasn’t focused on housing, Falk said, but as survey results began coming in, housing needs were frequently mentioned.
With the largest employer in the county – Bassett Hospital, “a half-billion-dollar medical center” – just three blocks from Cooperstown Elementary, things should be different.
“Every day I see ads for employees at this medical center,” Hayes said. “We definitely don’t have enough housing for people who want to live here.”
At last week’s meeting, Hayes and Crankshaw repeatedly said no firm decisions have been made about football or anything else. The next of a series of “open budget discussions” is planned 6-6:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 4, in the high school library.
Savin, the BOCES superintendent, said that while CCS’ situation is the most dire this year, it’s not alone. “In Oneonta,” he said, “they seem to have some growth in the younger grades. Every other school in our region: They’re either staying flat or losing students.”
He continued, “In more schools, because we have declining enrollment, the school boards and communities are looking at more collaborative ways of keeping their teams. It’s appropriate, in my view.”
“That’s what the data does,” he said: “It causes the right kinds of conversations.”
ONEONTA – Enrollment in Oneonta City Schools, it turns out, hit bottom with this year’s 10th graders.
The 105 sophomores comprise the smallest class, K-12, among the 1,738 students currently in city comprise.
What’s more, Oneonta’s schools have by far the largest enrollment, more than double second-place Cooperstown Central, among the 19 school district in ONC BOCES.
And, according to the annual “Live Births” compilation prepared by ONC BOCES Superintendent of Schools Nick Savin, it will continue to grow, at least modestly, for the time being.
“It’s a great situation for us to be in,” said Oneonta Superintendent of Schools Thomas Brindley, who was at his desk Tuesday, Feb. 18, in the midst of winter break when students and most teachers were vacationing.
Where Cooperstown Central, where “Live Births” are plummeting, is looking for ways to make cuts across the board, including football, Brindley can look at “staffing needs related to those numbers” with some optimism.
Yes, staffing it determined to some degree by the teacher contract, but there’s also room for “best practices,” he said.
Brindley agreed the addition of housing – the Silver Creek development in particular – has brought new people to the city. But also, families are drawn to Oneonta by jobs at the colleges or hospital.
The schools are an attraction, too, said Brindley, a former policeman who was promoted from high school principal to the top job when Superintendent Joe Yelich retired last year.
“But also, the Oneonta Central School District has a lot to offer its students,” he said, and on purpose.
Because of a wealth of extra-curricular activities, seniors grade with “very attractive transcripts.”
Beginning seven years ago, when he was appointed OHS principal, “we grew our clubs and organizations to grow an environment where there’s something for everyone,” whether the graduate it going into the workforce, the military or on to college.
“Whatever ‘next’ is,” he said, “it draws them in.”
The sophomore class, at 105, was a sharp reduction from this year’s seniors (134), according to Savin’s numbers. But with some ups and downs, enrollment continued to trend upwards, to 140 (this year’s sixth grade) to peak at 152 (this year’s third grade).
The last “Live Births” analysis shows 140 kindergartners entering the Oneonta district next September, a next gain of six over the 134 seniors expected to graduate in June.
ROCK CLIMBING – 3:30 – 5:30 p.m. Free, grades K-6. Compete to see who can climb the rock wall the best. Sign-up at climbing wall. Clark Sports Center, 124 Co Rd 52, Cooperstown. 607-547-2800 or visit www.clarksportscenter.com
STAMFORD – Valerie A. VanValkenburgh, 34, ONC BOCES keyboard specialist here, passed away peacefully with her family by her side on Feb. 15, 2019.
Valerie was born on Dec. 24, 1984 in Cobleskill, and was the only daughter of Vance and Georgianna (VanValkenburgh) Wetmore. On July 1, 2006 Valerie married Robin VanValkenburgh in the Hobart United Methodist Church.
CAREER EXPO – 5 – 8 p.m. Students, families, adults are invited to learn what careers are available in our region, educational opportunities, more. Meet with business, college exhibitors to learn what opportunities can be found in our backyard. ONC Boces, 1914 Co. Hwy. 35, Milford. 607-432-4500 ext. 104 or visit otsegocc.com
OPEN HOUSE – 5-7 p.m. The Otsego Area Occupational Center open house includes display’s games, open enrollment for adult education classes, child fingerprinting, and demonstrations from the CTE programs. Otsego Nothern Catskills BOCES, 1914 Co. Hwy. 35, Milford. Info, www.facebook.com/ONCBOCES/
ALDEN SCHOLAR SERIES – 7 p.m. “Rethinking Clutter: An Anthropological Take on the Stuff that’s Hard to Let Go” presented by Dr. Sallie Han. Free reception to follow. Alden Room, Milne Library, SUNY Oneonta. Info, E.K Lee, (607)436-2159
HARTWICK – Gary Michael Newell, firefighter, poet and teacher who helped develop an alternative school in Hartwick, died peacefully at home on Friday, Dec. 23, 2016.
Mike was born in Whitehall, the son of Patricia Newell (Cooper). His maternal grandmother, upon first peek, declared, “He’s not a Gary. He’s a Mike!” and hence he became known as Mike. His childhood home, with the mountains in his backyard, provided the perfect setting for him to develop a relentless curiosity and imagination, a life-long penchant for risk taking, and a love of the Adirondacks.
OTEGO – As it begins to prepare its 2017-18 budget, the Unatego Central School District has discovered an accounting error has left it almost $1.5 million short of where it thought it was on its finances.
Superintendent of School David Richards said today that a review of Unatego finances released last night found that as a result of a non-cash accounting error in 2010, compounded by expenditures made following that error which assumed the funding was available, has left the school district with a $1.484 million shortfall as it prepares to develop the 2017-18 school budget. This is a huge error that will leave the school with a huge financial burden; had the school been in contact with a more professional and efficient accounting firm, like the Accountants in Windsor, this perhaps wouldn’t have happened and would have the school in a good place in terms of money. Should the finance team at the school have kept up to date with technology advancements in the accounting sector, such as looking into comparisons of wave vs quickbooks as well as other bookkeeping tools, they might have been able to spot this accounting error within one of these new tools and possibly rectified the issue before it became a problem for their 2017-18 budget.
This shortfall came to light as the district’s new Shared Business Official was closing out paperwork related to the district’s $15.8 million capital project from 2010. She discovered that there was a significant amount of funding shown as due to the General Fund from Debt Service in the both the current year’s budget as well as in previously audited financial statements.
In today’s weekly radio report on WAMC, Northeast Public Radio, Jim Kevlin, editor/publisher of www.AllOTSEGO.com (and Hometown Oneonta & the Freeman’s Journal), describes the dedication of the Amy Stock Memorial, a travelling exhibit that dramatizes the pain that can results from DWIs.
ONEONTA – Richard A. Murphy, 66, after 35 years as a speech therapist, 20 years in real estate, 28 years as a Little League coach and 12 years in public office, died at home Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016, after a long battle with a brain tumor.
He was born on Sept. 19, 1949, in Floral Park, the son of Eugene F. and Frances V. (Leahy) Murphy, and was raised in Queens Village.
Rich came to Oneonta following graduation from SUNY Plattsburgh in 1972. He began a 35- year career in speech pathology for BOCES in the local schools, receiving his master’s in 1977 from the College of St. Rose. Rich. He and his high school sweetheart, Pat, were married in 1973, raising two sons who graduated from Clarkson University and Siena College.