County’s educators call for more local control of school districts

Roughly 350 people fill the cafeteria at Fulton Junior High School to take part in a countywide forum on education Monday evening.  Colin Hogan photo
Roughly 350 people fill the cafeteria at Fulton Junior High School to take part in a countywide forum on education Monday evening.
Colin Hogan photo

By Colin Hogan

Hundreds of teachers, support staff, administrators, parents and school board members from across the county gathered in Fulton Monday evening to send a unified message to their state leaders: leave educating to the educators.

The event, which was coordinated by the county’s teachers unions and held at Fulton Junior High School, was one of many being held in schools across the state recently. Speakers representing all the different stakeholders in public education discussed the many ways they’d like to see New York state release its grip on school curriculums and operations, and give more control back to local educators and school boards.

Among the most highly discussed topics were Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed teacher reforms, the Common Core curriculum, mandate relief and the state’s gap elimination adjustment on school budgets.

Teachers blasted the governor’s proposed reforms, which were outlined in his State of the State speech earlier this year, for being off the mark on influencing actual change, and condemned him for withholding aid from schools that don’t adopt them.

The reforms include changing accountability measures so that half of teachers’ evaluation ratings would be tied to how well their students perform on state exams. Currently only 20 percent of teachers’ ratings are based on that criteria. They also prohibit any teachers who have been rated ‘ineffective’ due to those test scores from getting an overall ‘effective’ rating, and extend the period for being granted tenure to five consecutive ‘effective’ years, up from three years currently.

Jeff Peneston of the Liverpool Central School District — who was named New York State Teacher of the Year in 2011 as well as one of Cuomo’s Master Teachers — said the governor’s plan is out of touch with the realities inside schools, and will only end up hurting students.

“Every one of the governor’s reform agenda suggestions is an experiment, and he’s suggesting that if we do this, this, this and this, and if we hold all these school boards hostage to budget issues, that somehow we’re going to solve the problem,” said Peneston. Like many of his colleagues, Peneston stressed that the decisions that determine how schools are run are being made by Albany lawmakers with no experience in the field.

He felt the proposed evaluation methods will not accurately assess an instructor’s effectiveness — an argument he said is too-easily discounted as teachers being afraid of scrutiny.

“I’m not here for the union. I’m not an angry teacher who’s afraid of losing his job. I’m not afraid of being evaluated — I don’t know anyone who’s afraid of being evaluated,” he said. “I’m afraid of being put on the bathroom scale when I know that bathroom scale’s not calibrated.”

Other speakers criticized the laying out of the Common Core Learning Standards for being a rushed process, too centered on standardized testing, and leaving little opportunity for teachers to take more creative approaches to their instruction.

“One of the biggest criticisms of the layout of the Common Core was how quickly it was rolled out,” said Barbara Hubbard, a former Fulton educator and current school board member. “The rush to implementation has impacted teaching and learning in our schools, and we must have a culture of trust and community in order to support change that is based on what will best serve our students.”

She said while standardized tests have been around for decades, the intensity of exams students now take, and the setting in which they take them, is far more daunting than it used to be.

Fulton City School District Superintendent Bill Lynch discusses the Gap Elimination Adjustment during the education forum Monday.  Colin Hogan photo
Fulton City School District Superintendent Bill Lynch discusses the Gap Elimination Adjustment during the education forum Monday.
Colin Hogan photo

“To be clear, testing is not new. I had to give New York state tests back in the ’70s and ’80s, but now students are taking tests over the course of many hours, over multiple days, and the tests are back-to-back on the weeks they’re given,” Hubbard said.

Hubbard said she’s been told stories of students “crying, having anxiety attacks and losing sleep over tests,” and of kids feeling “the responsibility for what might happen to their teacher because of that score,” something she called “a very unfortunate situation for our students.”

Kevin Caraccioli, a parent in the Oswego City School District, shared some of his children’s negative experiences with the Common Core, which he said “has turned our youngest generation into a bunch of nervous, self-doubting test takers.” He feels Common Core “places so much emphasis on testing and evaluation that it has lost sight of our proudest accomplishment: our children.”

Speakers’ concerns extended beyond the classroom, though, with many calling for the elimination of the state’s Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) — a measure that was enacted in 2010-11 to help the state close its own budget gap by taking back from districts a certain portion of their state aid.

In the Fulton City School District, alone, the GEA has cost the district about $10 million in aid it would have otherwise received over the last five years, according to figures provided by Superintendent Bill Lynch.

“New York state, as we know, faced significant financial deficits (during the 2010-11 year) and in order to balance their books, they took money away from school districts. The more money they gave a school district, the more they took away,” Lynch said.

Lynch said the GEA, coupled with the state’s cap on local tax levy increases, has left school districts — particularly high-need, low-wealth districts like Fulton — with considerable budgetary challenges. He called the tax cap “a backdoor way of limiting local control” — an issue many attendance felt would be the silver bullet is alleviating many districts’ problems.

“All kids need is a little more local control. Local school district control in decision making — within state guidelines, yes. We need to be accountable, but within guidelines, not with unfunded mandates and being held hostage for money if we don’t do what we’re told,” said Gerry Hudson, a former Altmar-Parish-Williamstown superintendent who moderated the event. “We know what needs to be done for our children.”

Attendees were asked to fill out petitions that will be mailed to each of the county’s state representatives. The petitions ask those lawmakers to “advocate strongly for equitable school funding this legislative season.”

David Derouchie, a Fulton teacher who helped coordinate the event, estimated that nearly all of the roughly 350 people in attendance filled out the petitions.

FCSD budgeting with cautious optimism in lieu of state aid figures

By Colin Hogan

With roughly two-thirds of its budget provided through state aid, the Fulton City School District is left waiting for the New York state to finalize its own budget before it can really plan financially for the next school year.

“We’re at the point, still, of waiting for the state legislature and governor to come to agreement on the budget for the state, which would then direct education aid to school districts across the state,” Superintendent Bill Lynch told the school board Tuesday.

Right now, after completing a second preliminary budget draft without state figures, the district is looking at an estimated $69.2 million in expenditures for the 2015-16 school year — a 2.69 percent increase from this year’s projected operating costs of $67,357,685. Current estimates have the district receiving $43,350,051 in general state aid for the 2015-16 year — about a half-million more than it received last year. However, concrete figures won’t be available until after the state budget passes, the deadline for which is March 31.

The district hopes to use less from its reserves than it did last year. Early budget projections have it using $1.5 million of its fund balance, as opposed to last year’s $2 million. Lynch explained that it was the use of so much fund balance in last year’s budget that prompted the state comptroller’s office to give the district a “moderate” fiscal stress rating.

“That’s a figure ($1.5 million) we really need to find a way to live within, because last year we weren’t really able to replenish our reserves, which led to us being designated as under fiscal stress by the comptroller,” Lynch said.

In their current calculations, district officials are accounting for a 2 percent local tax levy increase, though Lynch told the board Tuesday the goal is to keep it less than that.

“Once we get our state aid that may be able to come down a little bit, and it would certainly not be any higher than that,” Lynch said. “We’re working to keep that down. We want to be sensitive to our local taxpayers and obviously the impact the draining local economy has had on them over the last six to seven years.”

Some on the board, however, felt 2 percent is still asking too much.

“I just don’t think the households in Fulton can afford a 2 percent increase,” said board member Christine Plath.”Again, we don’t know what the state aid is going to be, but I think maybe we need to start looking at some reductions because I don’t think Fulton can support this.”

Lynch mentioned that if reductions were to be made, the district would first look at areas that won’t cut jobs.

“If we have to make reductions, we are willing to look at areas where we can reduce our spending that don’t affect current staff,” Lynch said.

He noted, though, that there might be some retirements in grade levels that are staffed as such “that we could look at some consolidation,” and also said the district could look at ways of reducing its substitute teacher costs.

With those estimates in place, the district would still need to find another $1.4 million to meet its expenses. Lynch hopes that this will be achieved through additional state aid and changes to the district’s Gap Elimination Adjustment — two items state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are currently working out (see related article).

“Those two areas are primarily what we’re looking at to close that $1.4 million gap,” Lynch said. Lynch also said Tuesday that, based on the most recent budget status report, the district is on target to underspend by about $1.15 million during the current school year.

He said, at this point, anticipated revenues are expected to fall short by about $300,000, which would leave the district about $850,000 under budget by the end of the year, barring no major changes.

Phillip J. Segretto

Phillip J. Segretto, 78, of Oswego died Sunday March 22, 2015 in Seneca Hill Manor. He was born in Oswego the son of the late Phillip and Fannie (Sugar) Segretto. Phil worked at Breneman Shade Factory for many years, before driving taxi in Oswego. In addition to his parents Phil was predeceased by his siblings Peter, Michael Segretto, Dorothy Spataro , and grandson Jim Chvala. He is survived by four sons David (Joanie Abare) Chvala of Mansville, Dan (Robin) Chvala of Oswego, Richard (Donna) Chvala of South Carolina and Jim (Nancy) Chvala of Calif., and his brother Francis (Josephine) Segretto of Baldwinsville, nine grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Calling hours were Friday at the Sugar Scanlon Funeral Home 147 W. 4th. St. Oswego.

Deacon John Cretaro

Deacon John Theodore Cretaro died Wednesday, March 18, 2015, in Mobile, Ala. Born August 2, 1941 in Canastota, N.Y. to Theodore and Rose (Cordileone) Cretaro, he is survived by his wife, Jo Anne Cretaro of Mobile; sisters, Patricia (Charles) Branagh of Clay, N.Y., Mary Cretaro and a brother, Michael Cretaro, both of Canastota, N.Y.; cousins, nieces and nephews. A graduate of Canastota schools, he served in the U.S. Air Force, graduated from the St. Phillip Neri Latin-Greek Seminary, Haverhill, Mass., and was affiliated with the Capuchin Friars of New York. He was a lay missionary for three years in Zaire, Africa and later, with his wife, served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Congo-Zaire, Africa. He received his B.S. in Industrial Arts and M.A. in Psychological Counseling in Human Services from the State University of New York, Oswego. In 1980, he was ordained a Permanent Deacon for the Diocese of Syracuse. In 2003, after 26 years serving the poorest of Oswego County, he retired to Mobile to continue as a Permanent Deacon in the service of the Archdiocese of Mobile assigned to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and resident chaplain at the Cathedral Place Apartments. He was also a 4th degree member of the Knights of Columbus. A private burial was held in Catholic Cemetery in Mobile. A funeral Mass was celebrated at the chapel of the Little Sisters of the Poor Sacred Heart Residence in Mobile on Saturday, March 21, 2015. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial donations be made to the Mobile Archdiocese or the Little Sisters of the Poor. Condolences may be offered at www.radneyfuneralhome-mobile.com.

Newell Fred Stauring

Stauring, NewellNewell F. Stauring, 88, of Fulton, passed away on Monday, March 23, 2015 at Crouse-Irving Hospital. He was born on October 23, 1926, in Fulton, a son to the late William H. and Ida L. Whiting Stauring. Newell graduated from Fulton High School in 1943. He retired from Sealright in Fulton after 45 years. Newell enjoyed camping and hunting. Along with his parents he was predeceased by his wife, Virginia in 2008, five brothers, Howard, Ernest, John, George and William and five sisters, Marie, Maude, Fairy, Esther and Thelma. He will be greatly missed and forever loved by his four children, Newell B. Stauring of Camden, Christine (Stephen) Harris of Parish, Pamela (Len Collins) Pickard of Fulton and Rebecca Kinney of Fulton; eight grandchildren; 14 great-grandchildren as well as several nieces and nephews. Calling hours and a servcice were held Thursday at Foster Funeral Home, 910 Fay St., Fulton. Burial will be in Mount Adnah Cemetery.

Ruth Benway

Benway, RuthRuth Benway of Fulton, passed away Sunday, March 22 at Oswego Hospital following a brief illness. She was born in Fulton, the youngest child to the late, Joseph and Anna Simon. Ruth retired from Syroco after 19 years of service and had previously worked at the Nestle Company for several years. Ruth was a communicant of the former Holy Family Church. She volunteered at Lee Memorial Hospital and was a member of Aurora of CNY. In addition to her parents, Ruth was predeceased by her husband, Raymond W. Benway; two brothers and four sisters. She is survived by her daughters, Linda Benway, Cathy (Terry) Alford and Karen (Phil) MacEwen; five grandchildren, Christopher, Katie, Amber, Corinne and Julia; nine great grandchildren as well as several nieces and nephews. Calling hours and a service were held Friday, March 26 at Foster Funeral Home, 910 Fay St., Fulton. Burial will take place at a later date in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Fulton. Contributions in memory of Mrs. Benway may be made to Aurora of CNY, Inc., 518 James St., Suite 100, Syracuse, NY 13203.

Frederick R. McCarthy, Sr.

Frederick R. McCarthy, Sr., 80, of Fulton, beloved husband, father and grandfather, died March 24, 2015 at James Square Nursing Home in Syracuse where he had been a resident for the past seven months. Born December 28, 1934 in Fulton, he was the son of Philip Sheridan McCarthy and Anna Muncy McCarthy. He attended Catholic grade school and graduated from Fulton High School in 1952. Mac served with the U.S. Army during the Korean conflict and joined the New York State Police on August 1, 1957, initially serving as a uniformed trooper and later was promoted to investigator with the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Troop D, Oneida. He retired in 1981 to go to work for Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation first as head of security at the Oswego steam plant and later as security supervisor at Nine Mile Point nuclear facility. Mac loved his dogs and horses as well as hunting, fishing and politics. He enjoyed telling stories of his years in the state police which included foot patrol at Sylvan Beach and the midway at the NY State Fair. He was chosen to guard Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev when he visited Hyde Park in 1951; he was at the Rochester riots in 1964 and the aftermath of Attica Prison riot in 1971. Mac was a member of the New York State Retired Troopers Association and Oswego County Lodge Fraternal Order of Police as well as Hannibal Post American Legion. He was predeceased by a brother, Philip McCarthy and sisters, Mary Jane McCarthy, Gertrude Cealie and Ellen Fones. Mac is survived by his wife of 38 years, Judith T. McCarthy; six children, Dennis (Donna) McCarthy of Solvay, Fred, Jr. (Jennifer) McCarthy of Town of Scott, Sam (Kathy) Gerbig of Oswego, Michael McCarthy of Clay, Sally McCarthy (Rick Schram) of Atlanta and Amanda (Nathan) Mountain of Syracuse; one sister, Patricia (James) Simpson of Fulton; grandchildren, Frederick III (Lauren) McCarthy of Charleston, SC, Daniel McCarthy of Baldwinsville, Brandon McCarthy of North Syracuse, Noah and Taylor Gerbig of Wareham, Mass., McCarthy Jane Mountain and Aidan Alexandra Mountain of Syracuse, Trey Glover of John’s Island, S.C., James Ouderkirk and JoAnne Crimmins of Oswego. Calling hours were Friday, March 27 at Foster Funeral Home, 910 Fay Street, Fulton. Funeral services will be 11 a.m. Saturday, March 28 at the Fulton First United Methodist Church, 1408 State Route 176, Fulton. Donations may be made to the Salvation Army, 62 South First Street, Fulton, NY, 13069.

Catherine  Mills

Catherine Mills OBCatherine  Mills, 59, of Pennellville, N.Y., passed away on Friday, March 20 at the VA Medical Center, Syracuse, N.Y. Born in Greenock, Scotland to her late parents, Catherine (Orr) Milligan and William Milligan on May 8, 1955, she was a homemaker. A Member of H. F. American Legion Post 418, Phoenix. She was predeceased by her husband George M. Mills, Sr.; her son George M. Mills, Jr.; and a brother, George Milligan. Surviving are her son and his wife, William J. and Stacey Mills of Hannibal; one grandson, Austin Mills; her brothers and sisters, Andrew (Margaret) Milligan, William Milligan, May (Jim) Dykes, Anthony Milligan, and Isobel Milligan Malone all of Greenock, Scotland; several nieces, nephews, and cousins. A memorial service was held Friday, March 27 in the American Legion Post 418 in Phoenix, N.Y.  A spring burial will occur on a week day at a later date in Pennellville Cemetery, Schroeppel.

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