New York State Governor Kathy Hochul’s proposed budget—for the Monticello Central School District—would result in a 15.4% increase in all state aid categories, including a 13.2% increase in foundation aid. The governor’s proposed increase is in response to a legal settlement to fully fund state foundation aid by 2024. The proposal for 2022–23 is the first half—roughly—of fulfilling that promise. Governor Hochul’s budget proposal is the most generous by any governor in recent memory, and it’s another step taken by the state to fulfill its constitutional obligation to fully fund public schools.
Also included in the governor’s proposal was a provision to give the New York State Education Department the authority “to forgive all such penalties” on building and transportation aid, “that the Department deems to be a result of inadvertent clerical errors.” If this provision is approved by the legislature, MCSD would no longer be subject to the $1.9 million penalty in building aid that resulted from clerical and reporting errors on building projects completed earlier this century. Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther and Senator Mike Martucci—and his predecessors—have sponsored legislation for this aid penalty forgiveness in the past and we appreciate their continued support in this endeavor.
Governor Hochul’s timing could not be better: like households, organizations, and businesses, school districts are dealing with significant inflation and labor shortages. Our 2023 family premiums for health insurance increased 13% compared to last year’s premiums. Inflation is driving up costs in other contracted services, supplies, and materials. We are also reviewing employee compensation agreements (e.g., salaries and benefits) to make sure they are locally competitive, and that we can responsibly address staffing shortages.
But we also recognize the opportunities this additional aid presents to improve programs and facilities, as well as lessen the burden on local taxpayers.
All of these will be considered and discussed by the Board of Education when creating its budget for 2022–23. For more information on our budget, please visit our website at https://www.monticelloschools.net/district-administration/budget/.
COVID-19 Mitigation and Prevention
We are presently reviewing our COVID-19 mitigation and prevention plan for 2021–22 to make sure it is current with public health agencies’ guidance for schools. Most notably, the plan is undergoing revision for the reduced isolation and quarantine periods for students and staff.
While Sullivan County Public Health Services (SCPHS) will no longer be contact tracing, schools are still expected to notify school-based close contacts of their exposure to COVID-19 cases. Our school staff will continue to investigate cases and notify individuals of their potential exposure. We review camera footage, attendance data, and staff members’ observations when determining close contacts.
If a fully-vaccinated student or staff member is determined to be a school-related close contact, they may continue to attend school so long as they are not symptomatic. Unvaccinated school-related close contacts will be quarantined from school for five (5) days, however we expect to have test-to-stay (TTS) protocols running in early February. More information on TTS will be shared once it is running. TTS would allow unvaccinated school-related close contacts to continue in-person instruction so long as they test negative and are not symptomatic.
As of January 26, we continue to monitor the legal challenges on mask mandates in New York schools. We review judicial decisions with our legal counsel once they are made, and determine (a) what is in the best interests of student and staff health and safety, and (b) what is required or recommended of schools regarding facial coverings. We will update our staff and community should any new developments emerge on face coverings in schools.
Capital Project Update
New Transportation Center
Work is nearing completion on our new transportation center. Most of the internal furnishings are nearly complete; once the sprinkler system is finalized and tested, we expect to receive a certificate of occupancy. This should be happening in the next few weeks or days (i.e., by early February).
High School Renovations
The lack of structural integrity in the 100/200 wing of Monticello High School has caused significant delays and redesigns in its renovation. Some of the discovered conditions include poorly constructed exterior walls and exterior walls that are not plumb—the northern wall changes by four inches from one end to the other. Our construction team has also dealt with staffing shortages and supply chain issues, as well.
One significant redesigned component is the use of traditional steel-formed framing, with layered steel exterior panels. The initial designed called for Kalwall panels to be applied to existing exterior walls. These were not possible due to the conditions described above. The steel framing—though more expensive—will make the exterior plumb and create a more energy efficient structure.
Steel framing is presently underway on the southern façade (i.e., the interior courtyard of the high school). Steel framing should begin on the northern façade (i.e., the side facing Breakey Avenue) in April 2022.
We recently received an updated construction schedule that—if not interrupted—will allow our students and staff to move into the renovated wing in early August 2022.
We appreciate your patience as we labor through this. We have not compromised on quality in these renovations, and we expect the new wing will impress all who visit or work in it.
Let’s Go Panthers!
Despite some initial challenges and delays, our winter athletics season is progressing nicely.
Although our district’s indoor athletic games and competitions are presently limited to four spectators per athlete, the public can still cheer our Panthers on from afar. All of our Panther home games are being live streamed on the newly-created MCSD Athletics YouTube page. A full and up-to-date schedule of all of our games is available here.
Last month, our very own Monticello High School Boys Basketball Coach Christopher Russo was named as the 2020-21 New York Boys Basketball Coach of the Year by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), a well-deserved recognition. On behalf of the entire MCSD community, we congratulate him for this honor. Read more about Coach Russo here, or watch his recent interview with Spectrum News here.