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St. Lawrence Central superintendent defends use of consultant

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BRASHER FALLS - St. Lawrence Central School Superintendent Stephen J. Vigliotti Sr. is defending his decision to hire a consultant to help the district develop a strategic plan to improve student achievement and get a better handle on the district’s financial situation.

Teacher Christine Compo-Martin said during this week’s board of education meeting that consultant Richard G. “Rick” Timbs had “crunched a lot of numbers” and did a budget projection, but “offered no real solution” to the district’s financial woes.

“He provided us the same financial information we already had, with dire predictions and no solution,” she said.

Mr. Timbs is a financial consultant who is president and CEO of R.G. Timbs Advisory Group Inc., and executive director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium.

Ms. Compo-Martin said she is particularly dismayed that the district had brought in Mr. Timbs at a time when their 2014-15 budget calls for the reduction of one math teacher, one physical education teacher, one business teacher, a half-time language teacher, one teacher assistant, one school counselor, one art teacher, one teacher aide, one cook, 5 percent of an athletic director’s position and a half-time music teacher.

“People are working harder than ever and doing more than ever, and it’s never enough,” she said.

Mr. Vigliotti said Mr. Timbs can help the district.

“I came here to improve student achievement. I worry about the underclass. I worry about them being able to take the next step,” he said.

Mr. Timbs’s services will cost $30,000, according to Mr. Vigliotti, but the net cost to the district is $3,000 because of aid from the Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

“We paid $3,000 for a pre-eminent expert,” he said.

The strategic plan, which was approved by board members this week, was an effort by many different stakeholders and worth the time and effort to develop it, Mr. Vigliotti said. The plan contains goals that will help guide student achievement in the years ahead.

“They, not me, created the strategic plan. It’s hard to put a price tag on that. I think it was a pretty good spending of $3,000,” he said.

Mr. Vigliotti disagreed with Ms. Compo-Martin that Mr. Timbs had not provided any concrete solutions to help resolve their financial difficulties. He said Mr. Timbs had provided recommendations for short- and long-term sustainability. Among them, he said, was to look at course offerings.

“By doing that, it’s going to cause a reduction in our course offerings,” he said.

“He also said to look to continue sharing services with outside agencies,” which would bring aid back to the district, Mr. Vigliotti said. “BOCES services create a sustainable, long-term revenue stream.”

Mr. Timbs had also recommended continuing to work with the district’s unions to “negotiate sustainable benefits and wages,” he said.

In addition, Mr. Vigliotti said, the district is “aggressively pursuing additional partnerships in neighboring schools.”

Those initiatives, however, did not help the district overcome a $750,000 gap that school officials identified before making the reductions. Some have suggested using more of the district’s fund balance to retain positions and provide the best possible education for students.

But Mr. Vigliotti didn’t believe that was a good idea, and he said the suggestion by those at the board of education meeting might not reflect the sentiment of the entire community.

“I’m not sure everyone would agree that spending every dime is a great strategy,” he said. “I ask if anyone lives like that in their personal lives,”

The reality, Mr. Vigliotti said, is that no matter how the district dealt with the $750,000 budget gap, it would impact the students.

“It’s very difficult to do that without affecting instruction,” he said.

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