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Whitaker Talks Fiscal Situation, Return Of Activities

President Donald Trump’s announcement this week that any negotiation of a coronavirus relief package would be postponed until after the 2020 presidential election on Nov. 3 came as no surprise to Jamestown Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Whitaker.

“I anticipated that this probably would be the case,” Whitaker told The Post-Journal after the district’s board of education meeting on Tuesday night.

The stimulus bill had been of concern to area superintendents.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made clear his intention to reduce state aid to municipalities and school districts by 20% should the federal government not agree to some sort of relief package. The reduction would heavily affect many districts in Chautauqua County that rely on state aid.

Whitaker did say, however, that Betty Rosa, the state’s interim commissioner of education, had pledged her support against an across-the-board cut in funding even though she “does not control the purse strings.”

“I’ve also spoken to the commissioner three times now,” Whitaker said. “She will advocate for us at the Office of Budget and with the governor. She did say that over the course of many years, any time that these sorts of things happen, there has been some concession to acknowledging the districts with high poverty and high state aid would be disproportionately affected by cuts if they are made across the board.”

Whitaker also noted, during his report to the board, that more guidance regarding the reopening of schools would be forthcoming in the next several weeks.

“There’s going to be new guidance coming out,” he said. “That will be more guidance for us to parse through. We will communicate that out to the community and post that on our website. It’s supposed to be version 2.0 for the guidance for returning to school.”

Additionally, Whitaker noted that more extracurricular activities, in addition to athletics, will be added in the coming weeks. Among the activities that have been cleared by the district to resume include the Jamestown High School “Red Raider” Marching Band.

“(Director) Meghan Murray has done an incredible job,” Whitaker said. “Not everybody can see the health and safety plan she has put together, but it is awesome. It’s just an incredible piece of work.”

“We now have these groups of kids coming back and I’ve heard from parents and from others and it’s an important feeling of mine as well that have our students back to doing things that make school, school for them,” he added. “We’re going to continue to look at other things like extracurriculars, clubs, activities, things like that. We wanted to get those big things rolling.”

Several parents attended Tuesday’s meeting to raise concerns over the district’s reopening plan.

One parent, Kelly Drago said she and another parent in attendance “are just wondering about the virtual schooling, where we’re headed and how we can get things more productive for our children.”

Whitaker was appreciative that parents chose to attend the meeting to voice their concerns.

“I love that parents come and state their opinions on the things that are most important,” Whitaker said. “They did tonight and they are rational and reasonable and clear in their presentation of concern. I can’t really state enough how much I appreciated that.”

During the meeting, the board also unanimously approved the establishment of an Unemployment Insurance Reserve Fund and transferred $676,713 dollars of excess unappropriated fund balance into the newly created fund as well as $616,040 dollars worth into the Teachers’ Retirement Contribution Reserve Fund.

The excess funding that was addressed had been noted by representatives from Buffamante Whipple and Buttafaro in their presentation of a district-wide audit that also occurred during the meeting.

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