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Editorial: Listen and Learn

Reading Grace Searby’s letter to the editor gave us a great topic for this editorial. The theme is – attend board meetings and learn.

 Ms. Searby commented on the Reserve Funds created by the OBEN School District but it should be mentioned that it follows NYS mandates and has benefited the district. Using reserve funds for maintenance takes it out of the realm of a voter-no-vote and saves the district thousands of dollars in interest. Years ago when the Birmingham School needed roof repairs, the past board decided not to put the cost of mainenance on the budget. The result was the building fell into disrepair. It was entirely lost.

Interestingly, many of Ms. Searby’s comments have been answered at board meetings. For instance, the school is not allowed to have parents pay for athletics, vis-a-vis her comment about bowling and golf.

In your deliberations about the budget it is good to note what board members have been saying, that NYS passes along mandates but doesn’t fund them when you look at the budget to budget increases. There is a new MTA tax no one had a voice in determining. There are budget lines for services that are reimbursed – but the money has to be in the budget to pay them. Those funds when they come in can be surplus – fund balance - for the next year. The stock market dropped and NYS pension funds have to be put in place. Previously they were doing wonderfully with their own system in place.

Ms. Seaby did suggest the reduction of all codes to save money but Dr. Phyllis Harrington said it would not work. Thinking about it, the codes include contract items and can’t be simply reduced. It sounds like an easy solution but easy is not always possible.

She also suggests cutting clubs, but that has been done. Co-curricular activities at Vernon have been deleted and only some remain at the high school – those that are needed for college acceptance.

Ms. Searby also suggests to cut $293,000 from teachers aides and assistants from the budget. “No!” They are the infrastructure that keep things flowing. In our view – in a perfect world – every classroom would have a teacher’s aide. Having another pair of eyes in a classroom is a great benefit and we would grant that for every classroom.

Ms. Searby talks about class size and the district has come up with a series of ways to handle those courses where there are too few students. The decisions are made on a course by course basis in relation to the need of the student in this small district.

As for American Sign Language, it is now an elective course, and ASL is considered a language.

The careful reader will enjoy Ms. Searby’s comments which are always welcome and which highlight the complexity of the budget process. Her comments make us especially glad that we have attended all the budget forums and have been educated on the process. We recommend attending school board meetings. You learn a great deal about how the district is run.

What was most enlightening last year was seeing how the meetings are scheduled – in a way it is a yearlong budget forum as each meeting builds on your knowledge on just how the district is run.

If you attend the meeting you will better appreciate that transparency is the hallmark of the OBEN school district. Attending meetings has helped our understanding of the issues involved. We hope we are keeping you, too, informed on what are the facts. You make the final decisions.

We support the budget – in a hopeful mood – that the economy will prosper during 2011 and that the state will be helping the districts more and in many ways.

- DFK