Welcome to the 2017-2018 School year!

Posted by Mrs. Andrea L. Galenski on 11/23/2017

I hope that this newsletter serves as an official welcome back to the new 2017-2018 school year. 

The beginning of this year brought much exhilaration as students, teachers and staff entered buildings that underwent major renovation throughout the summer months. 

I have attached a few pictures below to share with you some of the fine work that has been done to modernize our school district.  The first picture represents our newly resurfaced track in the back of JFK HS.  The second picture depicts our new bleachers being installed.  These bleachers are now secured on a solid concrete surface and have closed backs for enhanced safety.

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The next two pictures represent our brand new auditorium complete with new flooring, seating, painting, and acoustical wall panels for improved sound.  The other picture highlights our brand new lockers at JFK MS and HS.

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These four pictures are only a small sampling of the amount of renovations that have been done as a result of your support back when the capital project was approved.  Your support enabled us to improve our schools, make them safe places for all who use and visit the buildings, and move our District into the 21st Century.  Please visit the Capital Project page on our website to view the most recent powerpoint presentations that highlight the tremendous work that has taken place. 

Last year, I shared with the community that Mr. Drescher, our Business Official, and I presented at the New York State level in Saratoga Springs, NY.  We were able to share the tremendous accomplishments in the Cheektowaga-Sloan School District with Business Officials and Superintendents across New York State with a particular focus on developing and maintaining a robust partnership between School Business Officials and Superintendents in order to shift a school district toward greater success both financially and academically. 

As a result of the impact that this presentation had on other school districts, we were asked by the Director of Education and Research for the NYS Association of School Business Officials to present again this past September in Albany, NY.  It was my honor and privilege to present this past September 19, 2017 on long range financial planning specifically how planning for instructional programming must be done in direct connection with financial planning and at the forefront of the entire planning process, there must be a strong relationship between the Superintendent and Business Official.  We were able to highlight our District’s accomplishments, such as our Academic Learning Centers at JFK MS and HS, and our newly implemented consistent reading program—Lucy Calkins Readers’ Workshop—in all classrooms K-5, and use these successes as an example of how thoughtful planning and collaboration results in tremendous programming and financial planning with the ultimate goal being the movement of a school district forward toward achieving greater results.

I lead this District with humility and honor every day and for the past five years since I began this position, my main objective was to be as transparent as possible with all that we do here in our District.  Most significantly, it was and continues to be important for me to be clear with regard to our District’s financial planning so that our taxpayers feel confident that we are thoughtfully planning every day for educational programming, staffing, and both short and long term financial forecasting. 

I mention these strong beliefs of mine because in the past year, the District was audited by the NYS Comptroller’s Office.  The resulting report was recently issued and while the report commended the District on its payroll process and controls, it also criticizes the District for budgeting practices and funds relating to aid on a capital project that occurred over 10 years ago.  Mr. Drescher and I believe it is important for our community to understand the facts relating to this criticism especially since this major error was made in 2006-2007, which was long before we entered our current leadership positions in 2012-2013.  Thankfully, we discovered the significant error and were able to correct it as best we could.  

The State determined that it would provide “building aid” on this project over a 15 year period; however, the District funded the project using a 20 year bond.  This major mistake in mis-matching the aid period to the bond life would have resulted in devastating financial consequences to our community in the final 5 years of the bond’s life.  We could not let this happen to our taxpayers and we knew that our community could not possibly carry the burden of significant tax increases in the final 5 years of the bond’s life when no aid would be given to the District as a result of the error made in 2006-2007.  We developed the best plan for our taxpayers and the District by realizing that we needed to calculate what the remaining 5 years of payments would be and creating a plan for how we would make current payments while also saving enough money so we have the funds to cover the remaining 5 years of payments. 

Regarding the criticism of the District budgeting practices, we would like to offer several facts that support the financial decisions that we believe are best for our students, staff and community.

Below is a portion of a chart which is included with the Comptroller’s audit report:

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As you can clearly see from 2014-15, the budgeted appropriation actually decreased from $33,818,000 to $33,156,000.  This represents a $662,000 reduction.  Further, actual expenditures decreased each of these years representing a total decrease of $1,027,000 from 2013-14 to 2015-16. We agree that the District did not spend its annual budgeted appropriations, but we feel this is a sign of upright fiscal management and restraint. 

These reductions in appropriations and actual expenses were the result of some very difficult decisions that we felt were necessary and in the best interest of all District stakeholders.  These difficult decisions are detailed in the District’s response to the audit, but include staffing reductions and many initiatives to reduce costs while trying to improve educational opportunities for our students.  These reductions were also necessary as the State has withheld $43,448,803 in funding from the GAP Elimination Adjustment and the Foundation Aid formula from 2007-2017.

Despite this withholding of aid that could have significantly assisted in reducing the burden to District taxpayers, we believe the District has proactively managed finances such that the change in the tax levy has been very reasonable.  New York State imposed a Tax Cap upon local governments in order to control the burden placed on local real property taxpayers.  The following is a comparison of the Tax Cap to actual changes in the District’s tax levy:

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As indicated in the above chart, the District’s actual tax levy is approximately only one-tenth of what it could have been under the Tax Cap.  To our disappointment, the Report of Examination makes no mention of this impressive fiscal accomplishment.

We would like to note that all of this was accomplished while facing some enormous challenges, many of which are caused by mandates from the State and Federal governments. 

Despite the challenges faced, State aid being withheld and our attempting to keep the tax levy as low as possible, we believe it is our duty to improve the educational opportunities for our students.  The Board of Education and all District employees work tirelessly to educate our students, provide opportunities for them to reach their greatest potential in school and be productive citizens once they graduate, and to be leaders in our community.  Some of the initiatives and programs put in place in just the past few years include:

  • Implemented Honors Courses at JFK MS and HS
  • Several new courses introduced at the high school level—astronomy, meteorology, art courses, building math trade course, etc.
  • Significant improvements in technology
  • Created and staffed two new Academic Learning Centers at JFK MS and HS
  • Implemented The Seven Habits /Leader In Me program in all schools K-12
  • Researched, committed to and implemented a new consistent reading program K-5--Lucy Calkins Readers’ and Writers’ Workshop
  • Engaged in a Partnership with Buffalo State College at JFK Middle School
  • Implemented Math Olympiad at JFK Middle School—challenging opportunities for students
  • Maintained art, music, physical education, foreign language, librarians at each school, nurses at all schools, clubs and sports

We are proud to have provided the necessary balance in improved educational opportunities while also reducing expenses, controlling the tax levy and improving our financial position.  We will continue to make these thoughtful investments in our students while being cognizant of our taxpayers.  It is this balance between planning for educational programming/staffing and financial decisions that is critical and that we are most proud of what we have done in just five years in our positions.  We continue to be humbled by our New York State recognition for the planning and partnership that we have developed here in Cheektowaga-Sloan.

It is with sincere hope that this article painted a picture of the wonderful accomplishments that have been reached in the past five years as well as provided you with a clear explanation of why we had to make the decisions that we did once we discovered the error that was made back in 2006-2007.  I encourage you to call us for further explanation if you have additional questions. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this newsletter and for your unending support in all that we do for our students and community.

 

Sincerely,

Mrs. Andrea L. Galenski, Superintendent of Schools