Members of the Advocacy Committee with Assemblyman John McDonald in the Assembly Chamber of the NYS Capitol in Albany.

Members of the Advocacy Committee with Assemblyman John McDonald in the Assembly Chamber of the NYS Capitol in Albany.

A group of students, administrators, staff and a parent leader from the East Greenbush Central School District’s Advocacy Committee traveled to the New York State legislature in Albany on Thursday to discuss important education topics with elected representatives.

The Advocacy Committee members on the visit included Superintendent Jeff Simons, Assistant Superintendent Roy Stiles, Director of Business and Finance Linda Wager, Green Meadow Principal Daniel Garab, Columbia Social Studies Teacher and EGTA Secondary Vice President Daniel Wagner and Columbia students Raziya Coleman ’23, Zane Fermon ’23 and Shea Thorpe ’23, and a district parent of two students and Goff PTO Officer, Kim Turner.

The group met with Assemblymembers John McDonald (District 108) and Scott Bendett (District 107) and State Senator Jake Ashby (District 43), who all represent areas in the East Greenbush CSD.

“As a school superintendent, I always appreciate the responsiveness of our school district’s legislative representatives. They care about public education, are well informed on the key issues and listen to the concerns of our schools,” said Superintendent Jeff Simons.

“This years’ visit to the legislature was even more powerful than prior years in that Assemblyman John McDonald, Assemblyman Scott Bendett, and the office of Senator Jake Ashby listened to the experiences and reflections of students, teachers and parents regarding the education they receive in East Greenbush,” Mr. Simons continued. “Our Columbia students – Raziya Coleman, Zane Fermon and Shea Thorpe – represented our schools with distinction during the visit. Each of them was well versed on the issues and equipped with skills of advocacy and policy analysis they’ve learned in the classes they’ve taken at Columbia such as Participation in Government and our Syracuse University Project Advance (SUPA) Public Policy course.”

Topics Discussed with NYS Legislators

School Aid/Foundation Aid

The district is appreciative of the legislature’s commitment to fully funding the Foundation Aid formula within the state budget. East Greenbush is projected to receive a significant increase for 2023-24. The increase will be necessary to address cost increases the district is facing and to sustain high quality educational programs, maintain reasonable class sizes and elective courses including college credit and Advanced Placement courses, provide extra academic support and mental health services for students.

Universal Pre-K

Our school district began receiving UPK funds from the state in the 2021-22 school year. We used these funds to establish two Pre-K classes at Red Mill Elementary that year through a contract with Questar BOCES.

This year is the second year we received UPK funds and we expanded the number of classrooms to three – one each located at Red Mill, Genet and Donald P. Sutherland. We also contract with a community-based provider for seven additional students.

The district seeks to sustain its Universal Pre-K classes as we know the benefits it has on early childhood education. It is also extremely important to families who struggle with the availability and costs associated with pre-k child care.

Our allocation is projected to increase for 2023-24. However, under current law, our reimbursement for UPK is capped at $5,400/student. Our actual costs are $10,000 per student. We are unable to use the additional monies to sustain our current program. Additional classrooms are not available to create more classes. Thus, the money will go unused. We are seeking changes in the law to increase the current reimbursement rate so that we can use the monies to maintain our existing UPK classrooms and avoid cost shifts into our general fund, which would affect our school budget. Under the current reimbursement formula, state allocations cannot be spent to cover our costs. Thus, in future years, these costs will be shifted to the local taxpayers or the program will need to be reduced or eliminated.

Student Meals

Our district is joining other schools and organizations in asking the state to provide funding so that all students can receive breakfast and lunch at school at no cost. The federally funded program which operated in prior years due to COVID was not reauthorized by Congress. We are grateful that NYS is considering proposals to fund school meals next year as it directly helps our students and families.

School Safety

East Greenbush CSD places a high priority on school safety. Our district conducts regular safety planning and training. We employ two School Resource Officers through agreements with the East Greenbush Police Department (Officer Ashley at Columbia) and the Rensselaer County Sheriff’s Department (Deputy Gravelle at Goff). The district’s expenses for the SRO program are approximately $180,000 annually.

We are seeking to expand the SRO program to the elementary school level. The availability of additional officers within local police departments to expand the program is limited. At one time, the NYS Police maintained an SRO program, offering a state-wide solution. We are looking for solutions at the state level that would establish a dedicated fund for school safety and enable law enforcement agencies to afford hiring additional officers or retirees who could serve as SROs. The waiver of the retirement earnings limit has been helpful to school districts.

Mental Health

Student mental health needs continue to increase in schools. We are pleased that the Governor’s budget includes an allocation for school-based mental health access. We currently have an arrangement with Rensselaer County Mental Health for a school-based mental health satellite clinic which operates one day per week at Goff Middle School and one day per week at Columbia High School. The district employs social workers, counselors and school psychologists in every school. Student needs, however, exceed district staffing.

We are hoping to expand the number of days our mental health clinic is available for students in need of services for next year. We are experiencing a lack of access for children who may require hospitalization.

Career and Technical Education/PTECH

East Greenbush CSD encourages students to pursue all options for courses including attendance at Questar III BOCES for Career and Technical Education. During the current school year, the district has 45 students enrolled in CTE in programs such as Criminal Justice, HVAC, and Gaming and Multimedia. The district also has eight students enrolled at Tech Valley High School and 13 students enrolled at the PTECH/Early College High School Program at Hudson Valley Community College.

We are asking the legislature to increase affordable access to CTE programs through increasing the aidable salary limit within the BOCES Aid formula. Ensure existing PTECH programs are eligible for additional funds within the state budget to reduce costs to component school districts and to sustain existing programs.

Annual Professional Performance Review (Teacher and Principal Evaluation)

Restore local control to the process of teacher and principal performance evaluation. Eliminate state-prescribed evaluation systems.