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Kaitlin Carney | Democrat

Monticello Central Schools employee Janette Williams spoke at Tuesday’s forum at the Cooke School, reminding Superintendent Pat Michel of one of the tenets of her job, “the children come first,” and urging him to remember this when decisions are made regarding the budget and the possibility of closing schools.

Cooke forum offers few answers

By Kaitlin Carney
MONTICELLO — March 5, 2010 — “Closing one elementary school is not going to be good enough,” Monticello District Superintendent Dr. Patrick Michel warned a tense crowd on Tuesday evening.
Parents, educators, and politicians filled the gym at the Cooke Elementary School to get answers to the questions swirling since Paul Seversky, a consultant with the New York State School Boards Association, presented his demographic findings and suggested that Monticello operate with one less elementary school.
This meeting, sponsored by the Cooke PTA, was to present the community with more information and serve as a forum to ask questions.
Those answers were sparse; the blizzard last week kept administrators from preparing the anticipated 2010-11 school budget.
The one conclusive statement that came from Michel during his opening remarks was something no one assembled wished to hear. It also did little to calm fears or silence rumors. Instead he pointedly referred to the district’s pressing need to make up for an incredible loss of state aid and an anticipated 3.5 percent increase in operational costs.
Michel explained the budget process, reminding the community that only 20 percent of the budget is controlled by the district. He thanked the community for its support of last year’s budget, which increased school taxes 3.85 percent.
In a nod to his inner educator, Michel set out to present a visual example: he asked people in the room to raise their hands if they had a child in the district. Most of the 150 or so people proudly raised their hands and kept them up as Michel explained further the budget. A “rollover budget” would keep the programming and services the same for the district, and would require the district to come up with $2.7 million in increased costs and additional funds to replace the monies eliminated from state aid. Michel then asked who would support this anticipated 14.78 percent increase in the tax levy. As a stark visual of these bleak times, one hand remained.
Michel told the crowd exactly what they didn’t want to hear: he was not going to be able to answer questions about closing a school until after the board convened on Thursday, March 4.
Instead, parents asked questions about how the budget would affect Special Education programs (state mandated and largely unaffected), made suggestions (consolidate buildings, use St. John Street), demanded to be part of the Board of Education process (all meetings are posted and public) and rallied one another in support.
After Michel urged everyone to contact their representatives and to write letters, one parent suggested they go grass roots to Albany “If we have to send buses, let’s get going!”
Hon. Josephine Finn, an audience member, reminded everyone that “we are not four elementary schools, we are Monticello.” She further urged, “look for the opportunity instead of focusing on the challenge,” in these times.
As the nine o’clock ending time inched nearer, the dominant message from a man unable to satisfy the curiosity of the crowd assembled before him was parental: be careful with the emotion of these challenging times around our children.

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