KINDERHOOK–The Ichabod Crane Board of Education held a meeting using Zoom, the online video conference platform, Tuesday, April 7. All board members, except Vice-President John Antalek, attended the meeting remotely along with school administrators and the two student board representatives. The public was invited to watch the meeting on Zoom but there was no public comment.
Board President Matthew Nelson started the meeting by thanking the staff and administration. He said of the district’s teachers, “You have collectively done a tremendous job.” The school buildings have been closed since March 17 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. At first, the plan was for the schools to reopen early in April but now all county schools are closed until April 29. State assessment and Regents exams are canceled for the year. Classes in the district are being held remotely.
School Superintendent Jason Thomson, who started in the district in February, said that “MiFis” (wireless routers that act as mobile Wi-Fi hotspots) and Chromebooks (personal computers), had been handed out last week to students who needed them for school work.
He also said to the student representatives that though the Regents exams have been canceled, “You’re not exactly off the hook.” He said that high school students need to pass their class to get the state credit.
Student representative Anna O’Shea said, “It’s been a difficult transition” for students but that it has been helpful when teachers have “office hours” on the Google Classroom site, which students can connect to.
Mr. Thomson said that there is currently limited access to the buildings for staff to pick up more teaching materials they need. All facilities, including the grounds, are closed to the public at this time.
The district is also still offering meals for children under the age of 18. Currently, the district’s Food Service Department has meal pick-up at the school and at St. Joseph’s Church in Stuyvesant three days a week. Todd DiGrigoli, the manager of the Food Service department, was on the Zoom call and reported to the board that he was working with the district Transportation Department to deliver some meals. He said he was also working with the district’s Backpack Program, which sends students home for the weekend with food supplies. He said that the school had serviced over 5,500 meals since the buildings closed. He said the number of meals continued to grow and currently he did not have any issue with supplies.
‘At this point we are moving forward as if everything is normal.’
Supt. Jason Thomson
Ichabod Crane School District
The board also heard an update on the major capital improvement project that was supposed to start this summer. Mr. Thomson said the specifications for the $27-million project were still going out to bid and he was having a meeting to go over what was essential and non-essential work.
“At this point we are moving forward as if everything is normal,” he said of the project.
The district is also moving forward with reviewing the proposed 2020-21 school budget even though the date for the public to vote on approving the budget as moved from May to June. District Business Manager Micheal Brennan presented the proposed $42 million budget to the board, which was within the state mandated tax cap and included about $15 million in state aid. Currently, there are no plans in the proposed school budget to make any cuts in staff.
One number that Mr. Brennan said was new from the state was the Pandemic Adjust and Federal CARES Restoration number that could be taken out of the district’s state funding. The amount the district could lose is about $214,000 and Mr. Brennan said the district could cover that loss with money from the district’s reserve funds or fund balance.
He described the potential reduction in state funds as “not so bad,” saying other districts were hit much harder. The money would be taken out of the district’s funding if the state does not meet “certain thresholds” in the state budget, he said.
Mr. Brennan said that there needs to be more clarification on the new budget vote date before the board could take any action.
Mr. Nelson said that the budget numbers were “more positive” that he expected in light of what was is going on in the world.
The last thing the board discussed was a motion made by Superintendent Thomson, who said he was standing in for Mr. Antalek, the vice-president. The motion would authorize the district’s attorneys, Girvin & Ferlazzo, P.C., to defend Mr. Nelson “in his capacity as president of the Board of Education.”
According to the motion “an appeal to the New York State Commissioner of Education was filed by Jeffrey Ouellette on March 23, pursuant to New York State Education law §306.” The petition named as respondent Mr. Nelson, in his role as president of the board, and the appeal seeks “the removal of said respondent.”
Mr. Ouellette is a board member who earlier this year made a statement about a particular district student at a committee meeting. In early March, the board passed a motion criticizing Mr. Ouellette and restating “the board’s commitment to its ideals and principles of lifting students up and giving all students an opportunity for a high quality education founded in respect and dignity.”
At the April 7 meeting, Mr. Ouellette was asked about the appeal sent to the state commissioner about Mr. Nelson. Mr. Ouelette said he couldn’t comment on a legal matters and referred to the document that has been filed. Several board members said they had not seen the appeal and the district clerk said, “I don’t have that document.”
Board member Susan Ramos asked Mr. Ouellette to share with the board what was in the appeal, saying she was “just asking for information.”
Mr. Ouellette said there were “protocols and practices” to follow.
He voted No on the motion to have the attorneys for the district defend Mr. Nelson. Mr. Nelson abstained. All other board members voted Yes.
The board will host another Zoom meeting April 21 to vote on the Questar III/BOCES budget. The next regular meeting is scheduled for May 5 at 7 p.m.
April 16, 2020 EMILIA TEASDALE