JPS Board Discusses ‘Good News’ From State Ed. Head

Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Whitaker, right, engages in discussion with school board President Paul Abbott, left, during Tuesday night’s meeting at the district’s administration building. P-J photo by Cameron Hurst

A member of the Jamestown Public Schools board of education who is active at the state level told her colleagues that a recent meeting with the interim state education commissioner yielded some “very good news” for the school district during the body’s meeting on Tuesday night.

Christine Schnars, who also serves as Area 3 director on the New York State School Boards Association board of directors, said that the association held its quarterly meeting on Saturday that included a two-hour discussion with Betty Rosas, the state Department of Education’s interim commissioner.

During that time, Schnars said that Rosas indicated that she is advocating strongly for “more equitably distribution of cuts to aid,” despite indication from Gov. Andrew Cuomo that a 20% cut in state aid to local municipalities and school districts could be coming if there is no federal stimulus agreed upon by Congress.

“She said, and I thought that this was very good news, that there were major discussions going on between the governor’s people, state education and the Board of Regents and that it looks as though they are going to come up with a fairly equitable formula to do those cuts,” Schnars said. “It doesn’t mean that there won’t be cuts, but it means, for us that it will be less than 20%. She’s feeling really good about that.”

Kevin Whitaker, superintendent, told The Post-Journal after the meeting that he was encouraged by Schnars’ update.

“It’s been a roller coaster when it comes to funding in New York state and the questions that we’ve had for so long about what that might look like, to hear anything that sounds like it might be a pathway toward at least an answer sounds great,” he said, lauding Rosas’ advocacy.

“Betty Rosa, I know, is personally very interested in helping students who struggle, who come from homes and communities that struggle with poverty,” she said. “She’s very attuned to the struggles of those districts, like ours, that have to navigate those things with large populations of students. It’s very encouraging to hear her say that. Ultimately it’s going to be the governor’s decision and I hope that he listens to her.”

Schnars, who represents Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Allegany and Steuben counties in her role on the state board, also said that Rosa asked each of the 13 directors to talk about the areas they represent and the “inequities in digital learning” and “poverty issues” each area faces.

“She also talked about forming a partnership with a couple of other educational groups to work on these three issues that she wants to work on,” she added. “She’s forming a partnership with the New York State School Boards Association board and some of us will be asked to serve on one of these issues. I’m very much looking forward to that, but I want to assure you that we are very fortunate to have her in that interim position. She’s very easy to talk to, she has wonderful ideas and if there is somebody out there watching out for us, she will become the permanent commissioner.”

Earlier in the meeting, Whitaker updated the board on the first week of school, one week into in-person instruction.

“Since our last board meeting, we have actually started school,” he said. “We had opening day and then opening day again for our separate groups. Our freshmen have been enjoying the opportunity to tour the building, learn the building with our staff members in small groups so that they don’t get lost or taken advantage of.”

He added, “The only way that we really could have pulled off this opening, which went really quite well, was with the help of all of the components of our district — our parents, our community members, our aids, our lunch and food folks, our aids, our teachers, our principals. It was a really impressive opening at a very tough and confusing time so thank you to all who made it possible.”

Whitaker said that he had received a wide range of feedback from staff members across the district.

“An interesting piece of feedback I got from staff members was having half of the students come in elementary schools and middle schools had a secondary benefit: students didn’t have to deal with, after six months, suddenly hundreds of kids all over the place in small groups and small settings and they stayed in small groups and it was quiet and it was planned,” he said. “It was a really good thing for that social and emotional stress and anxiety in returning to school at areally weird time. That was a real benefit.”

He added, “I’m also hearing that there were a lot of concerns about the logistics about how we were going to pull this thing off and it worked and people are happy, pleased and hoping that it continues. Now, because of that anxiety being lessened, now they’re saying that they can really devote their time toward instructional stuff, supplies and curriculum and focus on that sort of thing. It’s feeling like we’re getting back to regular school.”


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