During a community forum held Nov. 28 at Warrensburg High School, local resident Linda Apple talks about how extracurricular programs like sports, drama and music are vital to keeping students inspired and achieving well in their academics. Thomas Birdsall, (right) listens to her views while Paul Weick (foreground) listens to another group member.
Sue Gerrain of Truesdale Hill sat at one of 10 tables in the Warrensburg High School cafeteria during a community forum held Monday, Nov. 28 on the future of education in the Warrensburg area.
She listened to other local residents propose ideas, including how various enrichment and extracurricular programs cut in recent years should be reinstated — and that the quality education provided locally should be preserved. But she also heard talk of how the taxpayers deserved relief.
Then she offered a thought of her own.
“For long-term educational projects, school districts should invest over time, bit by bit,” she said, noting that taxpayers would be happier with miniscule increases each year than be hit with a big tax increase every several years.
The community forum was held in light of the state property tax cap and economic stresses now facing taxpayers — as well as declining enrollment, school officials said.
The WCS school board and administration sponsored the forum to determine what programs the public valued as well as hear suggestions for cuts in expenditures.
In one of the forum’s groups, Mike Sullivan, the school’s former Information Technology coordinator, made a variety of suggestions for maintaining a quality education while making it affordable — the top objective aired by the 65 or so people involved in the forum.
He suggested that the school district boost revenue by offering college-level adult education courses for a fee with the school’s Distance Learning apparatus — which is high-definition videoconferencing broadcasts of a live classrooms.
He also suggested that booster clubs could pick up much of the school sports teams’ uniform and equipment expenses now born by taxpayers.
At another table, Linda Apple said that the various elective activities beyond academics were what kept children involved in school.
“Drama, music and other extracurricular activities are the ‘hooks’ that keep kids performing well in their academics,” she said. “All of this is a balancing act with kids, parents, staff and taxpayers.”
Apple’s opinion was expressed at many of the groups at the forum, event facilitator Tara Sullivan of BOCES said after the event.
“Many feel very strongly they wanted to keep Advanced Placement and honors courses, as well as art and music,” she said.
Several people at Sullivan’s table, including some school staffers, suggested that the faculty give up their traditional stipends for chaperoning school events. Former school board member Al Smith suggested that sports teams limit the miles they travel for interscholastic games.
A district resident and parent named Sherryl decried the elimination of some advanced courses for the college-bound. In recent years, the Young Scholars and Odyssey of the Mind programs have been axed in budget cuts, she noted.
“My concern is that my daughter has the absolute best opportunities,” she said. “We’ve cut quite a bit in the last few years, and I’d hate for these cuts to go any further.”
Aineen Callahan, a WCS Freshman, said she was concerned about the cuts that eliminated home economics and guitar clubs, two of her interests.
“I don’t see anything left we can cut,” she said.
At another table, AnnMarie Richards and her daughter Lindsey Richards said they supported technology upgrades, and retaining or strengthening AP courses.
In this group, Irv West of Thurman suggested the school boost citizen volunteerism, as well as find ways to increase involvement of parents and other family members in their child’s education.
Former high school librarian Elaine Cowin suggested that the school undertake energy audits and eliminate wasted energy in all its buildings. Imbalance in wintertime heating at the elementary school, she said, leads to windows being opened in some overheated classrooms. Parent Laura Weick said the school, in an effort to save energy, could turn off many of their outside area lights that are now lit all night long.
At the other end of the table, Ruth Fruda suggested that the town and school district share services, equipment and facilities whenever possible.
Tom Birdsall of Thurman suggested that the school could expand its offerings by sharing specialized programs and teachers with neighboring school districts.
Sheila Mender of Warrensburg suggested that consolidating administrative services for school districts made sense. One superintendent and business manager could serve three or more school districts, she said.
Paul Weick, a teacher at Bolton Central, said that WCS could introduce such enhancements as advanced online courses, like Bolton does, at a reasonable cost.
“It’s a way to expand educational opportunities cost-effectively,” he said.
He also suggested that some staff development sessions could be eliminated.
Fourth grade teacher Chris Brown, as well as Irv West, proposed that volunteers in the community devote time to researching and obtaining grants to fund programs or equipment at the school. Brown also said more activities ought to be developed for students beyond the classroom.
Sullivan said that those planning for the school district’s future should not expect enrollment to fall any further, considering that thousands of new well-paid employees are expected to move into the region with the Global Foundries development in Malta.
“Let’s not be short-sighted,” he said.
John Palermo said he’d like to see some out-of-the box thinking on education.
“We need more innovation and experimentation to improve educational methodology,” he said.