PLATTSBURGH — Two of the newest Plattsburgh City School District Board of Education members were elected to lead the body during a re-organizational meeting Thursday morning.
Amy Gervich and Nikki Burdo will serve as president and vice president, respectively, for the 2021-2022 school year.
“I am really excited to begin my service as a board member and to work with each and every one of you,” Gervich said during her remarks at the end of the meeting.
The votes for president and vice president divided the board between its veterans and the recently or newly-elected.
Longtime members Fred Wachtmeister Jr. and Clayton Morris nominated each other for president and vice president, respectively.
But Burdo and Gervich ultimately prevailed with the votes of all four board members elected in May — themselves, Derek Rosenbaum and Brigitte Phillips — and Tom Lacey, who joined the board last year.
Both Lacey and Morris said they expect the coming school year to be difficult.
“But I honestly think we have an improved board that’ll look at things delicately, in-depth, will make the right decisions most of the time, hopefully all of the time," Lacey said.
“I’m confident in every single board member here.”
“I congratulate our new officers,” board member Roderick Sherman said. “I think turnover and change is always good.”
Topics that elicited discussion at the meeting included appointment of the school attorney, changes to substitute/temporary on call pay rates and the tax warrant.
Superintendent of Schools Jay Lebrun explained that, based on the new tax roll, the district’s total taxable valuation went up by $24.3 million to $1.04 billion, which represents a 2.4% increase.
“That increase is sufficient to fully negate any increase in the rate and actually yields a slight, that being a 0.4%, decrease,” Lebrun said.
When the budget was passed, the district had estimated the tax rate would increase from $23.3442 to $23.8938 per $1,000 of assessed value. The new valuation makes the rate $23.19205.
Lebrun attributed the boost in value to factors like continued development that resulted in more properties coming online and a strong real estate market, which helps increase assessment.
According to agendas from this and last year’s re-organizational meetings, rates for the district’s general counsel, Albany-based firm Girvin and Ferlazzo PC, are set to go from $175 to $180 per hour for most legal services, and from $195 to $200 for litigation, hearings, special education and construction law.
Lebrun estimated that the district’s relationship with Girvin and Ferlazzo is pushing 10 years in age.
Morris suggested the district seek rates from other firms in the near future, positing that it may be time to bring in a local firm as the district has been spending a lot of money on travel.
Both Rosenbaum and Lacey agreed.
Lebrun explained that, since the firm is not employed by the district, board action could change the school attorney at any point.
Morris was the lone nay vote on “other appointments” items, which included the school attorney rates.
The new substitute/temporary on call rates will bring the pay for those positions “an extra step above minimum wage," Lebrun said.
The recommendations were based on discussions the board had toward the beginning of the year about whether the pay was high enough.
Lebrun noted that certain positions are quite difficult to fill, such as substitutes for bus drivers, teaching assistants and lunch monitors. Morris questioned whether raising the rate would help in recruitment efforts.
Lebrun replied that he did not know, noting how when the district was first to crest the $100 daily teacher rate, it didn't increase the candidate pool by that much.
“I don't know if extra money would increase the marketplace. I don’t know, perhaps. It may be a function of just limited people wanting to work or wanting to do this work, period, regardless of money.”
Gervich asked if there was any plan to work with other districts and stakeholders to increase the pool of local substitutes.
Lebrun said there was not one currently, though districts communicate regularly about finding bus drivers and have put forth some ideas.
Asst. Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Carrie Zales said two things that served the district well over the past year when it came to teaching substitutes were the institution of building substitutes and the provision of training on what they would need to provide either remote or hybrid instruction.
Email Cara Chapman: