11/17/11 - Here's the article
that was published in the Daily Gazette about the event.
11/15/11 - State and federal representatives heard from
students and superintendents about the impact the devastating tropical storms
two months ago will have on local school systems that were
already facing challenges because of rising state mandates and
the state's new property tax levy cap.
Middleburgh Superintendent Michele Weaver hosted the
event. Among the guests were Kenneth G. Slentz, Commissioner for
the Office of P-12 Education at the State Education Department
(SED); Senator James Seward;
Assemblyman Pete Lopez; BOCES District Superintendent Charles Dedrick;
and Sean Shortell, district director from U.S.
Congressman Paul Tonko's office. Area school superintendents Christine Crowley
of Duanesburg, Paul Dorward of Berne-Knox-Westerlo, Lynn Macon
of Cobleskill-Richmondville and Brian Sherman of Schoharie also
"All of our instructional spaces (in the high school/middle
school basement) were severely impacted," Weaver told the group,
noting that restoration and recovery is a long, slow process. "Today is
better than yesterday and tomorrow will be better than today."
She described the five feet of mud and water that
the utility/mechanical room, cafeteria, gymnasium and classrooms
after the storms hit. The Middle School/High School, which was damaged
more than any other school building in the area, sustained at least $5
million in damage and loss. The cleanup alone cost $1 million or
The assistance of student and community volunteers
shaved at least $600,000 from the cleanup cost.
The program began in the Middle School/High School library with a 30-minute
video presentation that featured photos of the damage and
student and staff testimonials. A tour of those spaces followed and
the day concluded with a meeting of the Schoharie County area school
Difficult and emotional start of the school year
Students Chealsa Smigiel, Courtney Paser, Julia Prendergast
and Vicki Robert created the presentation with technology
teacher Scott Gray and answered questions at the end of the
presentation. They also led the group on the tour.
"Small towns always find a way of figuring it out - and we'll
be no different," physical education teacher Gregg Johns said on
the video shown by the students. He described the devastation of
seeing the physical education spaces and gymnasium under five feet of water
"Everything I do is hands-on and it is so hard to do that
when all I have to teach with is a computer," Gray told the
group, noting that replacing equipment in his department is very
expensive. "There are so many who want to
help us and there is still a lot of work to be done."
The students, who had come to help during the cleanup, said
this was a tough way to begin a school year. They didn't have a
gymnasium, athletic fields or Distance Learning and technology
classrooms. A lot of their
friends were affected by the storms (though Weaver said that
just five high school/middle school students moved from the area
after the storm). The cleanup and partial
restoration delayed the start of school by eight days.
"This is our senior year and we were excited about that,"
said Julia Prendergast. "We don't have a senior lounge anymore.
There wasn't a lot left downtown for us. We had planned to do a
lot of fundraising for our senior trip, but we can't go out into
the community and ask for money when people out there need it
more than us."
She said the class was grateful that the Shaul family, whose
farm was severely damaged by the storm, contributed money to
help the class purchase caps and gowns for graduation.
English teacher Jon Derochie, who is also the athletic
director, said he was devastated by the damage to 'my gym'
caused by the storm. "I refused to go in there, it hurt too
much," he said. "We're coming back but there are roadblocks;
we'll get around those."
He noted that the new gymnasium floor was reopened on
student use in physical education classes and sports teams.
BOCES Superintendent Dedrick noted that the $1 million in
unexpected cleanup costs
amounted to about 5 percent of the district's $20 million annual
budget; the $5 million in losses is equal to 20 percent of the
budget. "That's a lot of money to have to take out of any
budget," he added.
Difficult road ahead
The Schoharie County superintendents discussed several issues
during their meeting with the state and federal representatives:
the storms' impact on education, diminished tax bases, the
changes in education funding, state mandates, 'functional versus
operational' recoveries and the demands for higher
academic standards in the face of a declining ability to raise
revenue because of the state's property tax levy cap.
They described already difficult fiscal times and futures for
the rural schools in the county. The storms just made matters
Weaver said that about 20 percent of property owners
in Middleburgh have not yet paid their school taxes this year;
Sherman said Schoharie's tax collections would likely be 20-25 percent
short; Macon said she expected Cobleskill-Richmondville's tax
receipts to be 10 percent short. Schoharie County, which is struggling with its own budget
woes in light of the state property tax levy cap, is required to
reimburse the school districts for
"What happens if Schoharie County goes bankrupt?" asked Macon. "They are the ones who are
supposed to make the school districts whole for taxes; how would
we make that up?"
With three years of reduced state aid, the schools have been
squeezed to the maximum. "If that trend (reduced state aid)
continues, and on top of this, we do not have the financial ability to sustain it
much longer," she added.
The superintendents discussed possible future budget impacts,
such as the elimination of sports teams, teacher and staff layoffs and other
budgetary reductions in light of the state mandates.
Sharing services and mandate relief
The area school districts have already been working together in many ways, such as the shared business administrator
between Middleburgh and Cobleskill-Richmondville; a shared
transportation supervisor between Berne-Knox-Westerlo and
Schoharie; shared bus runs and equipment; and attempts at
Assemblyman Lopez said the governor had promised mandate
relief as part of the property tax cap legislation last year but
he wasn't sure how much progress had been on that so far.
SED's Slentz said the Board of Regents has attempted to
streamline and cut back on some mandates within the department.
"They won't have big impacts; there is no one big hit we can do
to give you a big savings," he said. "Unfortunately, it (mandate
relief) will have to be done in small ways."
The superintendents also noted that the Federal Emergency
Management Administration (FEMA) has several rules and hurdles
in order to receive damage reimbursement. For example, replacing grass sod does not qualify for FEMA
funding, so damaged athletic fields are essentially not covered
for storm damage. Converting to a turf field would cost
Middleburgh's Weaver noted that the first FEMA meeting about
the damage at Middleburgh - among the most extensive in the area
- was held just two weeks ago.
Here are some photos from the events today at the
Middle School/High School.
Click on the
photo to enlarge it: