District eyes votes on capital plan, budget

Speakers criticize potential grade-banding for Rome City School District elementary schools

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ROME — At its regular meeting on Thursday, March 10, the Rome Board of Education passed a series of resolutions establishing the annual budget hearing to consider the proposed school budget for the 2022-23 school year and the date and timeframe for the school election and budget vote.

The board of education will hold a public hearing on May 5 (location and time to be announced) to discuss the proposed budget for the school year beginning July 1, 2022 and concluding on June 30, 2023. The board is required to hold this hearing no more than 14 and not less than 7 days prior to the date of the annual school election and budget vote. The board has not released a proposed budget or tentative proposal. The district’s budget for the current school year is $122.9 million.

Members also confirmed that the annual school election and budget vote will take place between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 17.

In other business related to the school budget and annual school elections, the board unanimously approved appointing Martha Schaller and Kathy Jo Britton as members of the Board of Registration of the City School District of Rome, each to a one-year term which began March 1. 

Carol Van Court and Kim Seifert were unanimously approved by the board to serve as alternates to the Board of Registration should either or both of Schaller and Britton be unable to act.

Members also approved fixed registration days for the board of education election and budget vote to take place May 17, with those dates being Tuesday and Wednesday, May 2-3, where the Registration Board will oversee such registration at the office of the Rome City School District, 409 Bell Road, Rome, between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.  

Capital Project vote

The following persons were appointed by a unanimous vote of members to serve as election inspectors for the 10 school election districts that align with the City of Rome election wards in connection with Rome City School District Capital Project vote, to take place March 22.

ELECTION INSPECTORS: Joan Fiaschetti, Jean Barnes-Truax, Vera Beggs, Sue Carvelli, Dianne Ceklovsky, Kathryn Wood, Elizabeth Barry, Anthony Seoane, Ann Kehoe, Rebecca Mellay, Diane Reynolds, Michael Potter-Urbanek, Joseph Brockway, Karen Town, Mae Smith, Ralph Iannotti, Elizabeth McMahon, Barb Brady, Val Mendoza, Eleanor Beer, Irene Panara, Cheryl Kegley, Sam Myers, Josephine Iannotti, Pat Cole, Laura Davis, Darlene Hertel, James Hertel, Donna Csete, Derek Pomento, and Josephine Robley.

The district will host an in-person community forum regarding the Capital Project vote at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 15, in RFA’s small auditorium, where district officials and representatives from LaBella & Associates, the district’s architects, will be on hand to consider comments and answer questions. 

Any questions regarding the upcoming school elections, budget vote and public information sessions can be directed to asktheboe@romecsd.org.

Low marks from speakers on grade-banding

At the previous meeting of the board of education, dozens of residents turned out to criticize a possible move by the district toward grade-banding as well as alleged conduct by board Vice President Tanya Davis, swelling the ranks of observers at the meetings.

“They were bringing in extra chairs,” said Rome NAACP President Jackie Nelson of the public turnout at the board’s Feb. 28 meeting. Nelson – who attends many of the board’s meetings – estimated nearly 40 people came out with 13 seeking to speak.

The lion’s share of the roaring was over a proposal to couple the schools into three elementary school communities, with one school serving grades K through 3, often called a primary or lower elementary school, and the other serving grades 4 and 5, known as an intermediate or upper elementary school. The approach – also known as “The Princeton Plan” – was pitched to the district by Ross Haber & Associates, the consultants engaged to guide them in the redistricting process.

Another element of the redistricting proposals that has provoked ire – particularly from district teachers – is the proposal to isolate grade 6 in a to-be-constructed annex to Strough Middle School in a hybrid introduction to that environment or even to a school building of its own (with Clough or Ridge Mills buildings raised as possibilities).

Regardless of the tack taken, Ridge Mills Elementary School – one of only two of the district’s seven elementary schools (along with Stokes) considered “in good standing” by the New York State Education Department in terms of academic outcomes – will likely cease to be an elementary school. The reasons, officials say, is that it doesn’t fit plans to balance the district’s elementary schools in terms of diversity, supportive services, special curriculums and that the Ridge Mills building is not a candidate for any additions due to a major water main running underneath it and the inability to put any more weight on the ground above that main.

Jon Maggiolino said that he and his wife, Becky, “chose Rome” to make a home for their family, which includes his wife, Becky, a 3-year-old son and a 1 year-old daughter. He shared that one of the reasons they chose Rome was so that their children would be “provided with K-5.”

“Some people aren’t clear about changes being proposed. Some people are confused. How will it effect my child’s education? How long will it take my child to become acclimated to a new school; students, teachers, administrators, environment,” queried Maggiolino. “A family of five trying to figure out logistics of picking up kids from three, maybe four, different schools?”

Maggiolino also raised a concern about how the approach could aggravate bussing, which proved especially challenging this past school year.

Ron Colangelo, a 2002 graduate of RFA, shared that he and his wife chose to return to his hometown in 2008 to make Rome their “permanent home.” The Colangelos, he shared, have three children; two who currently attend Stokes Elementary School and one who will be a kindergartner there this fall. Colangelo said he had considered public information and has done “countless hours” of research on his own before choosing a position on the redistricting proposals.

“Grade-banding is just a plan I can’t stand by,” said Colangelo. “It is a challenge to parents. It dismisses social and emotional risks posed to children. It ignores the impact of transitioning school to school every several years.” Colangelo went on to state that “there are zero studies” that show grade-banding has a positive impact.

Jennifer Roth introduced herself to the board as a mother of three children who do or will attend Denti Elementary school. Roth shared that her concerns regarding some of the redistricting proposals presented compelled her to sponsor the petition, which now reflects over 800 signatures. Roth pointed out that there is “no evidence of academic benefit for grade-banding,” but referenced articles on the K-6 and even the K-8 approach as being “better for student outcomes.”

Nadia Rashid is the mother of a kindergarten student at John Joy Elementary School and proudly shared that she herself was a “John Joy Tiger” and still remembers the teachers and staff from elementary school days. Rashid stated that she had been a case worker and was now a program supervisor at ICAN, an area non-profit and acknowledged that there are many reasons that many students struggle with transitions and developing positive relationships. “Switching of schools every few years is a preventable disruption in children’s lives,” said Rashid.

The final speaker of the evening, Nichole Hinman, did not speak against grade-banding or identify as a parent of a given elementary school, but appealed to the board to clarify the redistricting time line.

Board President John Nash indicated there would be more specific information after an upcoming ad hoc meeting and Hinman replied to ask whether that would be posted somewhere?

“There is no final decision yet; we are still waiting. All of the community feedback matters,” said Davis. “No vote is scheduled.”

Davis also confirmed that the board was still waiting for information from its consultants.

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