Montrose focuses on students’ safety, security

BY STACI WILSON

A full safety audit of the Montrose Area School District will likely get underway this week.
Board President Chris Caterson said, “Things may have quieted down but parents are still looking for answers.”

The school board held a special meeting, Monday, Apr. 22, where members approved the services of E&R Investigations and Consultants, at a cost of $3,500, to perform the safety audit.

Superintendent Michael Ognosky said the group could be in the district this week to begin assessing security in each of the four buildings – the high school, administration building, as well as Lathrop Street and Choconut Valley Elementary schools.

In addition to looking at the physical structures, Ognosky said E&S will also be looking at the district’s security of its technology, as well as conducting a review of the policies and procedures of drills and critical situations and the communication system.

The superintendent said he expected a preliminary report back by June; and expected the schools to hold a tabletop drill during the teacher in-service days prior to the start of the 2013-14 term.

The Elk Lake School District recently conducted a similar safety audit.

Board member Pamela Staats asked if the students had been or would be surveyed to see how safe they feel in school. She also asked if students knew the procedures for certain drills.

Caterson said, “We all understand this is needed.”

The transportation system may also be part of the security audit, Ognosky said.

The board approved an employment agreement with Lewis Plauny as a special assistant to the Director of Transportation, for 80 days or 500 hours, whichever is reached first.

Plauny will be working to complete the routing of the district’s bus, van and car contracts.

Ognosky said not all of the data is complete in the transportation department. Plauny will be mapping both morning and afternoon routes.

“The existing mapping still doesn’t grab all of the kids,” Ognosky said.

The district will be attempting to ascertain where the students get on and off a bus, van or car.
The bus stops don’t always match up with a student address, said Board Member George Gow.

The board accepted with regret the resignation of Sami Bourizk as the school police officer, effective April 12.

The board also made some minor modifications in its agreement with Leatherstocking Gas Company, LLC. Changes included modifying the certified completion date to when gas service is available at the school, and not when the conversion of the furnace burners is complete.

The board also passed two resolutions to be sent on to the local legislators.

The first called for reform to the state’s cyber-charter school funding formula; and the second dealt with pension reform.

Ognosky said that in the past five years, the district has spent nearly $2.7 million on cyber-charter schools, of which only $271,217 has been reimbursed to the district. In 2011-12, and in 2012-13, there was no state reimbursement to school districts for cyber-charter school tuitions.

Ognosky pointed out a recent finding by the state auditor general that noted an exceptional difference between the actual cost of educating a student in the cyber-charter system versus the reimbursement the cyber schools receive from the local districts.

Caterson said, “I know some board members question the effectiveness of the cyber-charter schools but we recognize parents have a right to choose the education of their children. But as a board we think we should be reimbursed the cost.”

Ognosky also spoke about the ballooning pension costs to the school district. He said the employee contribution rate makes up nearly 17 percent of next year’s school budget at a cost of $1.9 million.
By the 2017-18 school year, Ognosky said he expected the district to have to pay $3.5 million for the pensions.

The resolution passed by the school board called for the legislature to reform the pension system by adopting a hybrid defined benefit and defined contribution plan.

The resolutions dovetailed into the budget discussions in the finance committee meeting, held immediately after the board meeting adjourned.

Ognosky said the district is currently looking at a $385,000 deficit for the upcoming school year.

The superintendent said his hope was that the state legislature adopted a budget that offered school districts help not on the income side – but on the expenditure side.

Caterson said that addressing both the cyber-charter funding formula and the pension system would offer districts “long-term relief.”