Outline Onteora Board challenge

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To The Editor:
I am glad that other members of the community have stepped up for the positions of Onteora School Board trustee currently held by myself and Laurie Osmond. After three years of uncontested elections, it was easy to presume that nobody wanted the job, the only unpaid elected position in New York State. Having four names on the ballot is especially healthy as it requires Trustee Osmond and myself to articulate our vision for the district as we campaign for re-election. To that end:

The reconfiguration going into effect this September, approved by a 6-1 board majority, provides a positive long-term solution for many of Onteora’s challenges. It allows us to improve educational opportunities, as parents have long been demanding, via the establishment of Early Literacy Centered Environments at the Woodstock and Phoenicia K-3 Elementary schools, and Project Based Learning at the Bennett Grades 4-6 School, getting those intermediate age students out of the traditional educational environment of one teacher, one classroom, and into a more collaborative environment.

It addresses years of declining enrollment (which have thankfully now bottomed out) by reducing our number of classes per grade. In turn, it has allowed us to reduce the budget for the first time in memory, and present a 0 percent tax levy increase at a time when the recession still threaten the finances of many home-owners. And it has kept all three elementary schools open, great news for a district spanning almost 300 square miles.

It has been encouraging to hear so much support for this new model from adults all across the district. That said, I don’t underestimate the burden it places on those elementary parents who will experience changes in schools and schedules (particularly being an elementary parent myself). As we move through the transition stage and see the positive results in the classrooms and the culture of our district, I have faith that we will settle into our new routines and appreciate the impact of the re-configuration in improving our children’s education, and with it, attracting more families to the area.

There remain many issues confronting us. The tax levy cap, which can only be over-ridden by 60 percent of the voters, will require continued delicate negotiations with our bargaining units and close scrutiny of our operating expenses. The governor has set up an Education Reform Commission, and there are rumors of regional high schools being imposed, all of which increases the importance of the Legislative Action Committee established by the current Onteora Board President.

Closer to home, we hear the calls from parents for a more collegiate environment in the upper grades; we have mandated responsibilities to meet certain state standards, and an absolute imperative to improve our graduation rates. None of these problems can be solved by grandstanding at board meetings or on a district Facebook page, purposefully spreading misinformation in the hope of creating distrust, as has been happening regarding our excellent programs, nor by advocating change merely for the sake of change. They require experience, commitment, and integrity.

I can be reached for questions at tfletcherboe@ijamming.net. I ask you to support myself and Laurie Osmond, and our continued dedication to the progress of Onteora Schools and Community, by voting for us on Tuesday May 15.

Tony Fletcher,
Mt Tremper, Woodstock