Superintendent of Schools Peter C. Blake kept his message upbeat during his customary update at Thursday’s Regular Meeting of the Rome Board of Education — with a focus on overcoming a host of challenges — most significant the flooding of Staley Elementary School and subsequent relocation of its students and staff — to open to students on Monday.
Considering the setbacks and delayed start of the new school year, Blake expressed pride in his faculty, staff and students for “rolling with the transition” as the Rome school community collaborates to absorb the staff and students of Staley, the district’s largest elementary school population, after the building was closed for the school year just one week before the scheduled first day of school due to flooding caused by heavy rains.
He expressed thanks to the district’s facilities and maintenance crews, who have worked ‘round the clock since the infamous heavy rains of August 18 that may well have sealed Staley’s fate. He offered encouraging words about upgrades to the district’s athletic facilities, including at the “high school proper” and shared that he was impressed by the renderings of the new baseball/softball facility and hinted that a new cross country trail may well be added to the plans.
“It will be a really nice cornerstone for students and community to have those facilities on site,” said Blake. He boasted that Rome Free Academy’s teams are out there competing; including the RFA Marching Band. Members with children attending school in the Rome district echo Blake’s praises in unison, confirming that all was going well and the “open houses were packed.”
Status of Staley
On the subject of Staley, further to assuring that the district was ready for the new school-reopening date, Blake shared that the district was exploring resources that might be available through FEMA, as Staley’s closure was caused by a weather emergency. At a recent Special Meeting of the Rome Board of Education, the district walked back an initial announcement that Staley was closed for good and presented a budget for repairing the flood damage to the 60-year-old school building. The estimated repairs rang in at almost $4.5 million and this was just to restore Staley to “pre-flood” condition. The Board was assured - and demanded to be reassured - that this budget, and the resolution of which it was a part, did not reflect a decision to repair the Staley building, but only to legally begin the process of determining the best possible plan, where options still include new construction.
The Board approved a resolution formalizing the closing of the Staley building and reassigning its staff and faculty.
During the Public Comment portion of the agenda, one resident had filled out a public comment card, but had entered the gallery without wearing a mask.
Board President, John Nash — before he recited the formal rules guiding the public comments — asked the gentleman if he would put on a mask before making his comment. “No, I will not,” the resident replied. Nash informed him masks were required by state mandate to be worn by all those in attendance live at Board of Education meetings and that - if he refused to put on a mask, he would then not be permitted to make a public comment and would need to leave the gallery.
“So you are taking away my right to participate in my local government,” the man asked assertively?
Nash replied to simply say, “No. I am just following the law, my friend.”
11th-hour faculty flips
The Board added agenda items to address a resignation that morning of a teacher at Ganesvoort Elementary and the transfer of Ms. Buttenschon, a district floater from Staley to Ganesvoort to fill the gap as quickly as possible. The Rome Teachers Association is working with the district by expediting their hiring process to ensure all roles are filled as soon as possible, officials said.
Resolution to reallocate funds
MOH Health Insurance Consortium, who provide health insurance to district staff who are not union members, has reallocated monies back to districts due to a surplus and other issues involving the consortium’s financial status. The Board unanimously passes a resolution that ensures monies are returned to those staff who obtain health insurance through MOH, either in the form of a refund or credit, depending on the staff member’s current status.