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Westfield School Board Advocates For State Funding

WESTFIELD — Like others in the area, the Westfield Academy and Central School District finds itself in the position of having to fight for reimbursement for transportation costs incurred while delivering meals and instructional materials to students from March 16 through the end of June.

Board of Education members reviewed a letter drafted by Steve Cockram, board vice president, at their recent supplemental meeting. The letter advocates for school funding, with emphasis on transportation and COVID costs from March through June.

Board members had discussed this matter at their regular meeting on Nov. 9. Cockram told fellow board members that the state Education Department released a memo stating that transportation costs incurred by districts during the period of time schools were required to go remote — March through June — would not be eligible for transportation aid.

Cockram said the memo stated that transportation aid is based on transporting pupils to and from school, s according to state law, districts cannot claim transportation reimbursement for delivering meals and educational supplies.

Also, at the Nov. 9 meeting, Julia Murphy, district business manager, had said the district spent a grand total of $155,264 on transportation from March 19 through June 30. Board member Tom Tarpley noted that delivering meals was mandatory and reimbursement was expected by school districts.

Board members commended Cockram on his letter, noting that it is “very, very well done.” Cockram responded that Dr. Rick Timbs, executive director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium, had said what mattered most was not the quality of the letters but the number of letters that the SED receives.

“Everyone needs to send a letter,” Cockram said. “This is more than $150,000 of revenue which we may not have.”

Tarpley added, “I think it’s important for the community to know about the state’s hypocrisy with this.”

Board member Deanne Manzilla agreed.

“The public saw the buses going around, making sure the kids got food and supplies,” she said. “We were trying to provide, not so much nourishment for their brains, as for their bodies,” she said. “I don’t know how many people realize we aren’t getting reimbursed.”

In another matter, WTA president Keith Forster urged board members to support a Flash Fundraiser that the union is conducting for Union Relief. He explained that it is called a Flash Fundraiser because it will only last from Nov. 30 to Dec. 10.

Forster said they are having the fundraiser “because we have no way of doing the food drive that we do every year.” According to Forster, people who make at least a $5 donation, will receive a certificate and a chance of winning one of three gift certificates. All of the gift certificates are usable in Westfield, he said.

Manzilla told board members that this year Union Relief is providing “Christmas” for 108 kids, 48 families and 43 seniors.

“It is an expensive endeavor,” she said. “I don’t want it to be put on the shelf.”

She noted how fantastic the WACS staff has been in helping with the costs. “The people in this building have helped in so many ways,” she added.

Board members also received a video presentation relating how the fourth grade class was carrying on a decades-long tradition of learning about Native American life. The class reads the book, “the Sign of the Beaver,” and then learn about the life of Native American tribes in New York state. The experience culminates in the experience of building longhouses, making corn husk dolls and cooking succotash.

In other business, board president Wendy Dyment asked board members to review the superintendent’s evaluation instrument that they’ve been using. She said that, with having two new board members, it would be a good ideas for everyone to have a copy and to review it. She said that the evaluation is traditionally done in April, so suggestions made by the board could be implemented for the next school year.

Dyment also raised the matter of the December board meeting, scheduled to be held Monday. She reminded board members that, traditionally, there is only one meeting in December, but there is a long expanse of time between the December and the January meetings.

Dyment suggested changing the December meeting to Dec. 14, so there would be less time between that meeting and the one in January. Board members approved the change.

The board also approved a resolution denying Level 3 communications, LLC a refund or credit (FORM 556) of real property taxes for the 2017-2018 tax years. The Chautauqua County Real Property Tax Director recommended that the application be denied for several reasons, including the fact that “fiber optic cable has been interpreted and taxed as real property for more than 30 years.”

The board resolution states that the district “has carefully considered and fully agrees with the investigation and recommendations of the Chautauqua County Real Property Tax Director.”

In matters of personnel, the board approved Melissa Zakrajsek to the supplemental salary schedule as the Cheer Club Advisor for the 2020-21 school year, effective November 24, 2020, pending NYS authorization of winter sports.

The board also approved the appointment of Laurie Buchholz in the elementary tenure area for probationary period commencing on November 24, 2020 and ending on November 23, 2024. Buchholz, who attended the meeting via ZOOM, thanked members of the board.

In the Transportation Department, the board accepted the resignation of Patty Cunninghem as bus driver, for the purpose of retirement, “with thanks and appreciation for 22.3 years of service, effective December 30, 2020.” They also accepted the resignation of Annette MacDonald’s resignation as a part-time bus monitor, “with thanks and appreciation for 1.75 years of service, effective November 17, 2020.”

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