How can the Haines school board and borough assembly ramp up collaboration on education-related issues? The two groups brainstormed different opportunities to work together at their annual joint meeting.
Mostly, the routine meeting focused on money. The school district and the borough are both in the process of creating their budgets for the next fiscal year. For the school, that means planning for a budget shortfall of about $364,000 that is driven by a decline in students and corresponding loss of state funding.
But on top of state funding, the school gets money from the borough each year. There is a minimum and maximum amount they can give. In recent years it’s been somewhere in between, around $1.5 million. The school district is facing a shortfall this year. They didn’t come out and ask for more money at this meeting. Assembly member Heather Lende asked why they’re not asking for the maximum.
“The fact that the borough funds the school as you said in the middle, between the minimum and the maximum, is that strategic, why you ask that? Is that a good thing to do or do other boroughs fund school districts to the maximum? What’s the reason for you asking for that rather than the cap?” asked Lende.
“Well we didn’t ask for that, that’s what you’ve provided,” said Habra.
Habra says the school administration is still early in the budget process, and not ready to determine whether or not they’ll need additional funding. He said that’s not what this meeting was about.
“The assembly really works very well with the school district. Could we use more money, absolutely we could use more money. Am I here to pitch for that? That’s not what the point was,” said Habra.
Interim borough manager Brad Ryan said as they put together their budget, the borough is aiming to keep the school funding at the same level as recent years.
Aside from direct funding, the assembly and school board talked about other ways they can work together. Assembly member Margaret Friedenauer suggested using the borough’s lobbyist Bill Thomas to address state education issues that affect the Haines School.
“Since the borough is retaining a lobbyist this year, if the school board comes to the borough and says there’s this particular bill, there’s this particular issue, I always like to remind people we can lobby for more than just asking for money, we can lobby on issues,” said Friedenauer.
Others from both groups agreed it was a good idea to consider adding education issues to Thomas’ list of priorities.
Friedenauer said there are also borough issues that she’d like to see school board input on, as they relate to students and education. She cited public safety as an example, and the ongoing discussion about the possible loss of a state trooper and whether the police department is sufficiently staffed.
“If we add another police officer do you think that would be beneficial to your families or your children or school safety in any way? Those kinds of things I’d be curious to hear from the school board on,” said Friedenauer.
Lende brought up a community concern about drugs. She asked if that is a concern for the school as well, and whether that’s something the two groups should be teaming up on.
School board member Sara Chapell said absolutely.
“I think that is the kind of issue that the school and the borough absolutely should coordinate on. With our healthcare providers, obviously,” said Chapell.
Principal Rene Martin said, while the school isn’t experiencing the same scale of drugs-related issues that the community as a whole faces, students are aware that it’s there.
“The kids in our community are very aware that there are things beyond their scope that luckily they haven’t tapped into that has become an obvious problem. Is there experimenting happening? absolutely. Do we try to do our best with preventive measures? Yes,” said Martin.
Martin agreed that should be a community-wide effort the school and assembly work together on.