Strough discussions, elections ahead for school board in 2018

Published Jan 2, 2018 at 4:00pm

Board of Education election races — including one incumbent who will run again, another leaning toward it and a third who will not seek re-election — will be part of the new year ahead for the Rome school district.

Among other key items in 2018 will be the scheduled completion of a multi-year renovation of Strough Middle School’s Laurel Street building; clarifying potential capital project details for Rome Free Academy and Staley Elementary School; and addressing ongoing cost challenges for the next budget.

• School board elections — Three members of the nine-seat board have terms that expire June 30, 2018.

They include Paul Fitzpatrick, who is leaning toward seeking a second 3-year term; Karen Fontana, who will not be running for a third term; and Timothy Safin, who plans to run for a second term.

Fitzpatrick, also in his second year as board president which is determined every July at the start of the school district’s fiscal year, said of his regular board seat that he has “not fully decided” but “I’d like to do it again.” It is “too early” to decide for sure, he said, adding that he has family factors and some other aspects to consider which involve time requirements as well.

Fontana, meanwhile, said she definitely will not run again, with “no ifs, ands or buts” for her decision.

Family considerations and responsibilities that have increased are a main reason, she said, plus “I think two terms are good” for serving on the board.

While an initial three-year term is good for “learning the ropes, so to speak,” commented Fontana, a second term provides more opportunities for involvement with the board and district. But after two terms, “it’s time to give somebody else a chance to experience it,” she commented.

As for Safin, “I do plan to run again,” he said, noting family and district-wide factors. He said he asked his nine-year-old daughter if she wanted him to run in light of the time-consuming requirements, and she did; he observed “I think she likes the fact I’m trying to do good things....I truly care about all kids...how I try to treat everybody equally.”

In addition, “I like where the district is headed,” said Safin, and he would “like to see another three-year term” to continue his involvement.

He praised the work of district Superintendent Peter C. Blake, who is in the second year of a three-year contract, and he “wants to see where he goes with things” including Blake having “some very strong ideas” for the district’s operations. Safin, who currently chairs the board’s personnel committee, said he would like to see Blake get at least a two-year extension before his current contract is up.

• Strough renovation — Fitzpatrick said the board will “continue to monitor the project” and is “looking forward to it opening in September,” based on a schedule that includes the building being ready for classroom furnishings and related items to be moved back in during the summer.

The massive $25.4 million project, involving a comprehensive renovation of Strough’s Laurel Street facility, began during the prior 2016-17 year and has temporarily vacated the building. Strough students, including grades 7 and 8, are using the former Rome Catholic School building under a lease agreement and the former Fort Stanwix school building.

The pace of the Strough project has prompted some recent concerns. Board members last month debated when to determine whether the renovation will be done on time, and whether arrangements for the temporary relocation of students should be extended.

• Capital project for RFA and Staley —The board needs to “look at the scope” of what a potential project may involve, said Fitzpatrick. Among needs that have been mentioned are RFA roof areas, wall flashing, RFA Stadium artificial turf and various general upkeep issues at Staley. No decisions have been made regarding if or when to seek approvals for the long-discussed project, or regarding an approximate cost.

Before proceeding, the board also needs to determine who would be the architect for such a project, Fitzpatrick observed. The board has been reviewing whether to change how it contracts with businesses for certain services including architectural services, and a board decision is anticipated soon.

Overall, “I think we’ll be able to move forward in a cooperative manner,” Fitzpatrick remarked.

• 2018-19 school district budget — It is “not going to be an easy budget,” commented Fitzpatrick, noting that costs continue to go up including insurance, for example, among various categories.

The current 2017-18 budget included no increase in the overall local property tax levy compared to 2016-17. Safin said he wants to be able to continue that result, but also noted that the school district would like to see more financial aid from the state.

The board soon will begin preliminary reviews with the district administration as part of compiling a 2018-19 budget.

The board will seek to arrive at a proposed budget by April, to be presented for district voters to decide upon in a May 15 election.

The budget would take effect for the fiscal year that begins July 1.