Sunday, March 31, 2019

Budget Update...

At some point today, it is expected that the NYS legislature and Governor's office will reach an agreement on a state budget. There are several items within the budget that are worthy of careful attention by public schools throughout our state. Most importantly would the increase of foundation aid, above the Governor's initial draft executive budget. Currently, the 'rumors' coming out of Albany project this number to be somewhere between $50 million and $300 million in additional funding. Obviously, the higher the number, the better for our local budget outlook. Beyond the addition of foundation aid, it will be important to learn about how they are going to distribute the additional aid. Each year, there tends to be different factors put into play so that the additional funding is funneled toward targeted districts. In the end, based on historical trends and general conversation that we are hearing, I my best guess estimate for additional aid coming into Rome as a result of the budget bill will be in the ballpark of $650,000. I am hopeful that I am wrong on the low end, but that is the number that history would suggest based on the other numbers we are hearing. Along with the general conversation about the aid, another bill within the budget to watch is the Governor's plan for fiscal equity amongst schools within a district. Fortunately, this bill is losing some steam as we come down to the wire, but if enacted could cause a significant domino effect in Rome. The premise of the bill is that within a school district, no individual school should receive more of a percentage of funding of the entire budget than another. Most districts, including Rome, already run their building allocation budgets based on student population. This is the best way to make an equitable building budget. What isn't taken into account, however, is the cost of the employees within a given building. If this fiscal equity plan is enacted, it is possible that we will need to move staff around to ensure that our buildings have an equitable payroll by student population as well. This would have a tremendous impact on our schools, students, and staff. Fortunately, this bill is losing a lot of steam fast and it is becoming more likely that it won't be enacted this year. Regardless, it is another step towards Albany essentially wanting to centralize control of public education and mandate how our schools are operated. Finally, beyond the budget bill, there will be opportunities in the coming weeks for Rome to continue our efforts with our legislators in Albany to secure additional funding from the various funds that are set aside for the legislature to assign as needed. The work that Assemblywoman Buttenschon, Sentor Griffo, and Mayor Izzo are doing in Albany to gain increased funding for our community has been nothing short of tremendous. The fate of additional funding lies in the hands of committees and representatives that do not have a connection to Rome and do not represent us. For this reason, our district officials have met with and will continue to work with various committees and representatives from around the state. As more information breaks about the state budget and what it means for Rome, we will provide updates to the community. 

Congratulations RFA All-Stars

During the winter sports season, RFA had several students who excelled in their competition arena. For the 2018-2019 winter season. The following athletes were named as All Mohawk Valley All-Stars for their respective sports: Casey Hunziker, Oliver Dragojevic, Sadie Falcone, Marykate Weyant, Isaiah Nebush, Danny Mecca, Jake Hall, Griffin Eychner, Cam Williams, Damien Call, Ashton Thompson, and Marc Darcangelo. Beyond the Mohawk Valley, several student athletes are also receiving All CNY recognitions. Congratulations to all of our student athletes and winter athletic teams for an outstanding season!! 


RFA Musical

This week, the RFA music department presents their 2019 musical: The Drowsy Chaperone. The show will run on April 4, 5, and 6 at 7:30 p.m. each night. Tickets are general admission: $8 in advance or $9 at the door. Advance sale tickets will be available at Jervis Public Library. The Drowsy Chaperone is the winner of five Tony Awards, including Best Book and Best Original Score. The show is a loving send-up of the Jazz Age musical, featuring one show-stopping song and dance number after another! Mix in two lovers on the eve of their wedding, a bumbling best man, a desperate theatre producer, a not-so-bright hostess, two gangsters posing as pastry chefs, a misguided Don Juan and an intoxicated chaperone, and you have the ingredients for an evening of madcap delight. Come on out this week to support our RFA student actresses and actors!!

Chicken Riggie Dinner

The Rome Free Academy will be hosting the annual Chicken Riggie dinner fundraiser on the Friday night of the RFA musical. The date this year is Friday, April 5th from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Dinner will be held in the RFA cafeteria and the cost is $10 per meal. Each meal comes with riggies, bread, salad, drink, and dessert. Take out meals are also available for anyone that would prefer to support the fundraiser, but may not be able to stay at the school. Following your meal, you can take the short walk to the auditorium and enjoy the RFA musical that evening. What better way to make a complete evening of RFA entertainment! Come on out and support our junior class as well as our talented artists on the stage!

Go Home Early Drill

Each year, schools in New York State are required to conduct what is called a "go home early" drill. In our region, schools attempt to have this event occur on the same day to minimize disruptions for our local BOCES. This year, the go home early drill will be occurring on Thursday, April 11. For this drill, students will be dismissed from school 15 minutes earlier than regularly scheduled. Please make sure that necessary arrangements are made for students to arrive home from school earlier on that day.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Public Schools Week...

March 25th through March 29th this year marks the second annual Public Schools Week throughout our nation. While all schools make a difference in the future of our children and our communities, public schools comprise the vast majority of educational opportunities for our children and families. With all of the turmoil surrounding public school funding at both the state and federal level, there couldn't be a better time to shed some light on the positive impacts that our public schools have on our children. Public schools are the centerpiece of the hopes and dreams of our families, and the growth and wellbeing for our communities. Nine out of every ten students attend a public school throughout our country. Public schools welcome every child, regardless of ability, race, wealth, language, country of origin, or needs. Supporting public schools today will build a stronger workforce of tomorrow. On an increasing basis, a system that was meant to be built as a state education system, is under fire in New York as local communities are asked to pick up the slack of flat funding from the state government. For years, governments have attempted to move people away from public educational systems, claiming that other options may provide better opportunities for students and families. The reality is that public schools are providing a wider variety of opportunities that lead more students to success in postsecondary educations, careers, and in life than ever before. Public schools help more students become contributing citizens of their communities and communities are stronger when we all work together to support public education. As our public schools succeed, so too will our communities. The success of the future leaders of this great country critically depends on the support given to public education. We are very fortunate in Rome to have a community that is passionate and dedicated to their children, future, and schools. Through our continued collaboration and support of each other, we all can make a positive difference in the education of our children. It won't be long before Rome is recognized as one of the leading public schools in our state, thanks to the fine work of our professionals and community members alike. On behalf of our entire staff, the Rome City School District thanks our entire community for your past, present, and continued support of public education!!

Chicken Riggie Dinner

The Rome Free Academy will be hosting the annual Chicken Riggie dinner fundraiser on the Friday night of the RFA musical. The date this year is Friday, April 5th from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Dinner will be held in the RFA cafeteria and the cost is $10 per meal. Each meal comes with riggies, bread, salad, drink, and dessert. Take out meals are also available for anyone that would prefer to support the fundraiser, but may not be able to stay at the school. Following your meal, you can take the short walk to the auditorium and enjoy the RFA musical that evening. What better way to make a complete evening of RFA entertainment! Come on out and support our junior class as well as our talented artists on the stage!

NYSED Parent Dashboard

The New York State Education Department (NYSED) is developing a Parent Dashboard to increase transparency and make information about school performance and other school-level data easier for parents and the public to access. This is part of our state's Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan. NYSED is gathering feedback from parents and stakeholders to guide the work of developing the Parent Dashboard. Please consider completing their five-minute survey and tell NYSED how the Parent Dashboard can be as useful as possible. NYSED will use feedback from the survey to identify the data that is most useful to parents and the public. Informational resources in English and Spanish are available on our Parent Dashboard web page. If you have any questions, please feel free to email NYSED at ParentDashboard@nysed.gov.

Dialogue Event

On Monday, March 25, 2018, we will be hosting our annual Dialogue with the Superintendent event at Strough Middle School from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the Auditorium. The event is intended to provide families an opportunity to ask questions through the submission of a question card and elicit an on the spot response. All questions are anonymous. This event is open to ALL parents and community members in the District and is not specific to any one given building. For more information or if you have questions, please contact the District office.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Understanding Building Projects...

During the course of the year, you can hear a lot of things related to building projects that are frustrating to the general person; mostly because they don't have any working experience with the intricacies of a public school project. More challenging, during budget season (and when things are difficult); a large majority of people like to point fingers at building projects in an attempt to place blame somewhere. Unfortunately, placing blame and pointing fingers is the last thing that any community needs when attempting to band together to achieve what they are justifiably due. Regardless, people do it because that is our human nature; which is perfectly fine. However, in an effort to help people understand building projects; here are just a few points of information that may help you realize their impact on the school budget, taxes, and expenditures.

While educating the Board of Education about school budget the last two years, I have explained that school finance is nothing like personal finance. Money does not come from one source. Money comes from multiple sources. There is not one pot of money that is used for everything that a school needs, like our personal lives. With building projects, the money used to perform work does not come from our general operating budget. The expenses of a building project have zero impact on the school budget; if planned correctly. Each school in a district has what is called a Maximum Cost Allowance (MCA), and as long as the project stays under that cap; the project can be fully fundable by the State Education Department (SED). For the actual work, the finances are bonded (borrowed) somewhat similar to a mortgage and the district repays the bond at a flat amount each year for all projects combined; thus having a zero impact on the operating budget.

Further, building projects generate revenue for a district. This is the exact problem that we have in Rome. If building projects are done continuously each and every year, with a little work being done on every building (much like home maintenance), then there is a steady revenue stream flowing into the district. This revenue stream is the reimbursed money from SED to help pay for the bond. Fortunately, the revenue is greater than the yearly payment; which nets to a positive cash flow for a school district. Unfortunately, many years ago, Rome chose to take the path of waiting until the buildings were completely in need of repair, instead of doing ongoing maintenance and building projects. This causes giant peaks and valleys in the revenue stream and taxes. If done continuously, with a predictable amount being allocated for improvements, a community will never see a tax impact from a building project. If done in the manner in which Rome chose 20 years ago, then there will be times when a tax increase may be asked for and/or a tax credit may be seen when a large project is completely paid. 

The process is very complex, and not easily understood. As mentioned, the two most non-understood facts are that the finances from projects do not come from the general operating budget and a building project generates revenue for the district. Building projects are one of two controllable revenue sources for a district. Aside from taxes and building projects, we are at the mercy of the state legislature to fund our schools. We will continue to provide information on school building projects to help people understand the facts surrounding them instead of urban legend that arises when people are upset and wanting to place blame. Hopefully, as a combined force and a true community, we can continue to come together and work as a team to lobby the leaders in Albany for what we are due.

NYSED Parent Dashboard

The New York State Education Department (NYSED) is developing a Parent Dashboard to increase transparency and make information about school performance and other school-level data easier for parents and the public to access. This is part of our state's Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan. NYSED is gathering feedback from parents and stakeholders to guide the work of developing the Parent Dashboard. Please consider completing their five-minute survey and tell NYSED how the Parent Dashboard can be as useful as possible. NYSED will use feedback from the survey to identify the data that is most useful to parents and the public. Informational resources in English and Spanish are available on our Parent Dashboard web page. If you have any questions, please feel free to email NYSED at ParentDashboard@nysed.gov.

Music in Our Schools Month

The month of March, each year, is designated throughout the country as Music in Our Schools Month. During the past two weeks, and over the course of our next two weeks, our students and their teachers will be celebrating the month with performances. Thanks to the fine work of our music department teachers, our students have increasing opportunities to engage in music and expand their cultural understanding of the world through this art form. Each year, our enrollment numbers grow in our extra curricular music programs, and the quality of performance is improving at a rate faster than that. Thank you to all of our staff members who work each day to make our music programs what they are, and to the students for their dedication and effort to the art of music. 


Suitcase Art Show

Thank you to the Rome City School District Art Department for once again putting on the annual traveling art show throughout the Rome community. On March 7, the show opened at the Willett Center. Over the next two months, the show can be seen in different locations. The art show will remain at the Willett Center through March 26, then can be seen at Community Bank from April 3-22, and will conclude at Artistry Studios and Gallery from May 1-21. Congratulations to all of the students whose art work is displayed and don't miss this opportunity to see the amazing talents of our young artists in Rome!

Dialogue Event

On Monday, March 25, 2018, we will be hosting our annual Dialogue with the Superintendent event at Strough Middle School from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the Auditorium. The event is intended to provide families an opportunity to ask questions through the submission of a question card and elicit an on the spot response. All questions are anonymous. This event is open to ALL parents and community members in the District and is not specific to any one given building. For more information or if you have questions, please contact the District office.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Budget Development...

This week, we presented the currently proposed operational budget for the 2019-2020 school year. While there is a lot of information circulating about the negatives included with the budget, there is very little about the facts related to the negatives. Unfortunately, public schools are the only public institution that is required to present a balanced budget (revenue and expenditure match) and have it voted upon. Local, State, and Federal governments operate in significant deficit each year because their budgets only need to be presented as an expenditure budget and do not require voter approval. For this reason, school districts across New York State become targets each year during this time. In Rome, for the 2019-2020 school year, there is currently a project revenue deficit of $5 million. The largest factor for diminishing revenue is State aid, also known as foundation aid. As you know, local taxes are the only source of revenue that a school district controls; and a community can only burden so much of the revenue loss over time. While it is true that the school district has lost over $7 million in tax revenue the last six years, it is also true that taxes have been raised and continue to be higher than many would prefer. 

With the loss of $5 million in revenue, the budget deficit would be roughly $14.5 million dollars if everything we were currently doing, continued. Without money coming in the door, there are no options but to reduce expenditures. In years past, the district has consistently and continuously used their reserves to plug any gap/deficit to attempt to hold on for another year. This has left our fund balance reserves at a dangerously low level. In the current budget, with $7 million of reductions and $2.4 million of reserves allocated to help plug the gap; we still have a $4.5 million deficit to balance the budget before the end of the month. The three options for this would be to reduce further (nearly impossible), hope for more state revenue (or tax revenue which is not likely), or utilize more reserves which would leave roughly $600,000 in the bank for the future. As you can see, the situation is extreme and stems from a lack of revenue.

The main issue, as mentioned, is the foundation aid that comes from the State. This year alone, the formula suggests Rome should be receiving $61 million in aid, however the Governor's initial executive budget only calls for $49 million coming to Rome. Beyond this year, the district/community is owed $52 million of funding from the past 6 years. To continue the issue, not only is the district owed funding, we have seen the percentage of our funding decrease from 87% fully funded just 4 years ago, to 79% fully funded this coming year. Rome is one of two small city school districts in New York whose percent funding is decreasing while their total funding is not at 100% or better. Many small city school districts in New York have seen their funding increase by 15%  over the same 4-year period that ours has declined, or they are fully funded at 100% or better. Some school districts across the state receive more than 100% of their funding, thus creating significant disparities on our public education system.

As you can see, the situation is not as simple as we need to balance the budget so let's make cuts. No one wants to reduce anything. However, with less money coming into the district year over year, and having almost no control over that revenue; we are left with very few options. The revenue issue has already predicted a deficit for 2020-2021 of $9 million. This is the worst case scenario for all and it is imperative that we continue to work to reduce expenditures in an effort to make sure we can remain solvent in the future. For more detail on the numbers, please see the presentation on our website: 2019-2020 Budget Presentation. For a detailed explanation of the budget and situation, please attend the next Board meeting on March 28 at Strough Middle School. We will also be doing a community video presentation for anyone that is not able to attend.  


Friday, March 15 Reminder

This coming Friday, March 15, is a Superintendent's Conference Day and classes will not be in session for students; with the exception of Staley Elementary School. Staley students will attend for a half-day of instruction to make up one of the extra contingency days. Staley will operate from 9:10 a.m. to 12:40 p.m. If you have any questions about this coming Friday, please contact your child's school.

Suitcase Art Show

Thank you to the Rome City School District Art Department for once again putting on the annual traveling art show throughout the Rome community. On March 7, the show opened at the Willett Center. Over the next two months, the show can be seen in different locations. The art show will remain at the Willett Center through March 26, then can be seen at Community Bank from April 3-22, and will conclude at Artistry Studios and Gallery from May 1-21. Congratulations to all of the students whose art work is displayed and don't miss this opportunity to see the amazing talents of our young artists in Rome!

School Social Workers' Month

March signifies National Professional Social Work Month and is an opportunity for social workers around the nation and world and their supporters to educate the public about the invaluable contributions of the profession. Every day, the nation's 680,000 social workers work to empower and elevate millions of people, including some of the most vulnerable in our society. Social workers in school have not only become a necessity for our children and families, they have become an invaluable resource for everyone in times of stress and need. Thank you to our Rome social workers who consistently go above and beyond the call of duty for all students, their families, and their colleagues.

Dialogue Event

On Monday, March 25, 2018, we will be hosting our annual Dialogue with the Superintendent event at Strough Middle School from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the Auditorium. The event is intended to provide families an opportunity to ask questions through the submission of a question card and elicit an on the spot response. All questions are anonymous. This event is open to ALL parents and community members in the District and is not specific to any one given building. For more information or if you have questions, please contact the District office.



Sunday, March 3, 2019

MOMO & 48-Hour Challenge...

Unfortunately, there are two potentially dangerous internet/social media activities gaining popularity with children around the country. By now, you may have heard about the MOMO challenge, which targets children of all ages (5-18); but you may not have heard much about the 48-Hour Challenge, which targets mainly secondary children, but could be taken up by any child heavily involved in social media usage. Below are some details about both online concerns, including some links for more detailed information.

MOMO Challenge: The MOMO Challenge has been ongoing world-wide for several years, but has recently resurfaced and is making it's largest impact on the United States currently. MOMO (pictured above) is a Japanese piece of art that is appearing in popular YouTube videos through online hackers and attempts to get children to engage in a series of challenges. It has been appearing in youth videos such as Peppa Pig, Minecraft, and Fortnite. In those instances, the image appears quickly with messages for children to either commit self harm; or to download another popular app called WhatsApp. The challenge works by telling children that they will be cursed or that MOMO will come get them while they are sleeping, if they do not comply. For older children, the hackers encourage children to contact them through WhatsApp and then begin to challenge the children to do low level self harm activities while posting them on YouTube. Once hooked, the challenges gradually increase in severity up to and including suicide and murdering of family members. While there are fact checkers out there claiming this is a hoax, our schools have seen a significant increase of students in tears due to this movement. I can also speak based on personal experience as my own son has been witness to the MOMO Challenge through viewing YouTube videos. Experts encourage continued vigilance on behalf of parents and certainly if your children are using WhatsApp, it would be beneficial to have an understanding of their activity with the app. For more information and parenting tips related to the MOMO Challenge, please click here.


48-Hour Challenge: If the MOMO wasn't alarming enough, the 48-Hour Challenge may be one of the most alarming new trends amongst teens in our country. The 48-Hour Challenge essentially encourages people to simply disappear for 48-hours. Children across the country who have participated in the challenge have simply up and disappeared for two days without any notification or understanding of where they may have gone. To date, I have not heard of any violence associated with this challenge; however, the stress that can be caused to a family by a child that goes missing is obviously tremendous. For more information about the 48-Hour Challenge, please click here.

YMCA Community Survey

As one of the school district's strongest community partners, our Rome YMCA is seeking community input regarding potential future programming. The YMCA is interested in both adult perspective and student perspective with their surveys. They are interested in learning more about how they can provide the best services to you, your family, and our city!  Below are 2-minute survey links designed to figure out which youth and family programs you would like to see offered at the ROME Family YMCA. These are not a registration forms, and both surveys are anonymous! The surveys are only designed to gauge interest in programs. Any questions, feel free to contact Kaysie Gregory, Youth & Family Services Director at the ROME YMCA, either by email, kgregory@ymcatrivalley.org, or phone 315-336-3500 x 232. Thank you for taking a moment to provide them with your thoughts.



Online Curriculum Portal

After nearly two years of non-stop and solid work, the Rome City School District has updated over 30 curriculums that have been formally approved by the Board of Education. Along with this work, there has been an initiative to partner with Rubicon Atlas to publish all of our approved curriculums online for community members to gain access and for staff to have more updated and quicker access to curriculum. The district and our teacher teams continue to revise curriculum to ensure that our curriculum aligns with the Next Generation Standards and truly reflects the needs of our students. For access to the online portal, please click the link below.



National School Breakfast Week

The first week of March marks the recognition of National School Breakfast Week. On behalf of the entire district, I thank Mr. Chris Whitmore and the entire food services team of the Rome City School District for their constant and tremendous efforts to ensure that our children are provided with quality meals each and every day. The world of food services is one of the most challenging, yet unseen, functions of any school district. Often arriving in the morning hours before many others, our food services team members are always at the ready to prepare our meals and welcome our children into the cafeterias. We all appreciate your efforts, each and every day, and thank you for making sure our children have the best possible start to their day that they can!