MCS Superintendent fears state aid pinch

By Geoff Samuels
The New York State budget projections for 2013-14 were released last Tuesday and according to Margaretville Central School Superintendent Anthony Albanese, the 1.97 percent increase in state aid for the district is unjustifiably low.

In a recent interview with the News, Albanese said, “Again, we’re being punished because of our high land values. We’re considered property wealthy because of the relatively large number of second-home owners that we have…to the extent that we’re matched up with Westchester County in our wealth ratio. That means that the amount of money we get from the state is very limited.”
In other words, the amount of aid that the school receives is less than what the real conditions in the area should dictate, because our true financial condition is being misinterpreted.

“We have a very unique challenge here,” declared Albanese, adding that over 50 percent of the school’s children qualify for free or reduced fee lunch.

The superintendent, who has a background in the field of mental health, has voiced his concerns in the past that as issues arise due to continued economic and social pressures on children and families, additional support, in the form of new mental health facilities closer to our district, is needed.

Another issue
Emphasizing this point, Albanese questioned the ability of some parents to drive to Walton to receive such services.

“They may not have the money for gas, or even a car for that matter,” he said.
Noting that MCS currently has two psychologists in place, other area schools have just one, Albanese says the school is already providing a lot of additional support, but that it really needs to be shared throughout the community.

The school psychologists have the background and expertise to evaluate a child on many levels such as emotionality, frustration, attention deficit and hyperactivity. From there however, recommendations might need to be made to outside resources.

“There are times when it is very helpful to refer to an outside mental health service, as that is another step up in expertise that we could rely on…it’s very important that we get it right…kids can get depressed, they may have medical conditions that cause this depression…we’re not a mental health clinic.”

On January 2 of this year, a Preliminary Education Action Plan was presented to Governor Cuomo and his cabinet by the “New NY Education Reform Commission,” which was established in April of last year for the purpose of making recommendations for future reforms in education. The plan, which includes eight main recommendations, claims to address every phase of a students’ education from the earliest days of pre-kindergarten all the way through college. One of the recommendations is the creation of statewide models for “Community Schools” which would act as hubs for improved access to public, non-profit, and private services.

“So how do we get resources to children rather than try to have children and families go to those resources,” posed Albanese, “especially when we have the poverty issues that we have here?”
That’s where the “community school” model might come in. Albanese maintains that there are several community school programs already in place in other parts of Delaware County that provide various services.

“We tried to get that in place here about three years ago through Bassett Healthcare…the funding ran out…we don’t have those services in our school at present.”

Albanese also stated that, in regards to the potential to bring in more community services within the school, “We have room in our building, if we needed to create space.”
With the state budget as it stands, and school funding seemingly at a standstill, where do we go from here?

Albanese sounded upbeat as he spoke about opening a forum to talk about procuring various types of mental health services for this end of the county.

“I’m open to any idea.” He said. “I guess the broadest picture is we need more accessibility to these types of services for youth in our area — whether it be a satellite clinic, two times a week or once a month — we need more than what we currently have.”

The superintendent also spoke about his ties with Roxbury Central School Superintendent Tom O’Brien and Town of Roxbury Supervisor Tom Hynes, who he said both share his concerns about mental health issues in our community. In addition, he has written a letter to William Moon, commissioner of Delaware County Social Services, requesting his input on the situation.

Other problems such as shortfalls in funding for the full day pre-kindergarten program had yet to be addressed, but Superintendent Albanese concluded the interview with this: “There is a triangle composed of the school, outside agencies, and the parents, with the child being a circle in the center that touches the three sides of the triangle…the child’s the center of what we’re all about.”
On a separate note, the superintendent also said there will be an “early” vote on February 12 for the acquisition of a new school bus, which would be operational by the fall. Albanese says funding for the new bus is already in hand.