BOE adopts district and BOCES budgets, considers its future

PINE PLAINS — Recognizing that some of their questions about the Pine Plains Central School District’s future will go unanswered until more information becomes available, the Pine Plains Board of Education (BOE) got to business on Tuesday, April 28, adopting both the school district budget and Dutchess County Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) budget for the 2020-21 school year and keeping informed of the latest news from the state.

The meeting was held remotely through a video-conference due to the COVID-19 crisis with the entire board present as well as Superintendent of Schools Martin Handler; Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance Michael Goldbeck; Director of Curriculum and Instruction Brian Timm; and Stissing Mountain Junior/Senior High School Principal Tara Grieb. 

Goldbeck initiated the budget discussions with an overview of the proposed Pine Plains district budget for 2020-21. BOE President Chip Couse raised the subject of state aid, remarking that Governor Andrew Cuomo has indicated that state aid will be reviewed on a quarterly basis due to uncertainties with the coronavirus pandemic. BOE member Joseph Kiernan asked if, with the anticipated cuts of anywhere from 20 to 50%, the school district will be able to maintain status quo.

“I think what you’re asking is are we going to have to get into program reductions as a result of these pending cuts,” Handler said, “and I think the answer is, for 2020-21, most probably no… if we’re in the same pickle this time next year and we have subsequent years of reductions, then we’re going to have to take a look, but I think we’re in healthy enough shape that we can sustain these cuts.”

Goldbeck added that the district is in a fortunate position where it isn’t heavily dependent on state aid, noting that state aid makes up 20% of the 2020-21 budget. In addition to approving the 2020-21 school district budget, he said voters will have a chance to elect two BOE members and authorize the district to purchase four buses when the vote is held. However the BOE decides to organize the public hearing for the 2020-21 budget, Goldbeck said it would be held 14 days before the district vote.

Couse asked if the BOE had any information about the impact of the school district’s closure on its energy performance contract. Handler said that Siemens had guaranteed the district a certain amount of energy savings, adding the district is currently using “less energy, but not a lot less.” However, because the school district is paying less for its energy performance products, Handler noted the district is saving less. In any case, he said he thinks the district will be able to cover what was paid for the energy performance contract.

Moving forward, Handler asked if the BOE wanted to adopt the school district budget that evening as it was presented by Goldbeck. The BOE agreed to adopt the budget and unanimously adopted the 2020-21 budget of $33,525,450. The budget increase for Pine Plains for the 2020-21  academic year is 1.81% This vote was succeeded by the BOE’s vote to approve the property tax report card for 2020-21, which Goldbeck will submit to the New York State Education Department.

Under his report, Handler took the time to recognize “a group of incredible people” who have volunteered to deliver meals to students as part of the district’s food delivery program. He asked the BOE for a motion to allow him to offer mileage to the volunteers. The BOE agreed.

Next, Handler talked about the continuity of education plan the district had to submit to the state to keep instruction going during the state-wide closure of schools to stop the spread of COVID-19. He informed the BOE that the state has reopened the portal on the continuity of education plan since school districts have been doing a lot more in terms of curriculum and instruction since they first closed in March. The plan has to be submitted to the state by Monday, May 4, by 5 p.m. Taking the lead on this project, Timm said Dutchess BOCES has distributed a template to help the district outline the educational measures and programs taking place at each school building and at each of the different grade levels.

Handler also touched on questions he’s received pertaining to school elections, summer school and potential budget cuts — all of which have yet to be determined.

Moving onto the BOCES budget and board members, the BOE approved the proposed BOCES budget of $4,626,362 for the 2020-21 school year and voted on Thomas Hurley, Michael Riehl and Gully Stanford to fill the vacancies on the BOCES Board.

On Friday, May 1, Cuomo decided to keep schools closed. (For more, read this week’s front page.) 

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