Facilities Advisory Committee wrapping up work on Massena Central reorganization study

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MASSENA — Six of eight meetings to look at possible reorganization in the Massena Central School District have been completed, and all that remains is to review the draft report and prepare tentative recommendations, then present the final report to the district’s Board of Education.

The Facilities Advisory Committee met on Wednesday evening, with a focus on finances. It had previously provided a general overview of the study process and examined the instructional program, the district’s facilities, transportation and staffing. The sessions have been led by Alan Pole and Jessica Cohen, consultants from Castallo & Silky.

“This was the final meeting on the key issues. The focus was on our school issues. They’ve been focusing on each building with tours as well as key areas such as transportation, staffing and financing, and they’re making decisions regarding any upgrades to the facilities,” Superintendent Patrick H. Brady said.

This week’s focus was on the district’s past, current and projected finances.

“The committee spent considerable time talking once again about projections and the grade center model (stacking), the model where the three elementary schools would be retained, but each school would have up to certain grade levels,” he said.

The panel also looked at an overall picture of the district’s finances, looking back at the history of community support for the budget, the tax levy and rates over time, and the district’s fund balance and reserves.

“Their conclusion was that the district has been very prudent in its financial decisions over the course of several years. It has placed us in a good fiscal position for the future,” Mr. Brady said.

But, he added, there are always uncertainties when looking ahead.

“Given that over 70 percent of school operating aid comes from outside of the community through state and federal sources, we are consistently (relying on) the decision-making of other people, and that could change based on economic downturn, political issues and a variety of other factors. The last few years have been very good. The previous years, we were in a recession,” he said.

That makes it challenging to put a budget together every year because officials don’t know how much state aid they’ll receive. What could make it even more challenging is if leadership in the governor’s office changes and a new governor might want to cut school aid, Mr. Brady said.

“So we do need to be prepared,” he said. “Consultants are looking to come up with options for the board to consider as well as looking into the future if enrollment declines. Will there be opportunities at a later time to make changes in our building use and grade structures that would provide savings? Currently they are struggling to come up with some of those options because we are on a good financial footing and our grades are relatively balanced.”

Mr. Brady said Mr. Pole and Ms. Cohen have been conducting similar studies across the state for many years, in different locations with different conditions.

“I’m satisfied that the consultants have the extensive background and experience to be able to look at our district facilities and operations and develop conclusions that could provide either now or in the future some options for the district to consider. Their report will reflect our conditions and options based on those conditions. Whereas one district may see an opportunity for closing an elementary school, for example, another community may not. We’ll see what they come up with in the final report,” he said.

The next meeting will be May 30, when a draft of the report to the Board of Education will be presented and discussed. The final report will be presented to board members in June.

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