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Webutuck BOE reviews district business, delays SRO contract

WEBUTUCK — Ready to make a fresh start in the new year, the North East (Webutuck) Central School District Board of Education (BOE) got up-to-date on district matters at its first meeting of 2021 on Monday evening, Jan. 4.

The BOE  assembled  via Zoom due to the coronavirus pandemic. As there was no public comment, the board heard brief reports from Director of Student Services/Curriculum and Instruction Jennifer Eraca and Business Administrator Robert Farrier.

Eraca reported things are moving along in the Special Education Department as well as in the Curriculum and Instruction Department. Among her updates, she said the district is working with Dutchess Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) to develop a formalized online form for referrals that can be used when students are struggling, as was previously discussed at the BOE meeting on Dec. 21, 2020. Using this form, Eraca explained that Webutuck staff can pinpoint what they’ve been working on and collect data of how they’re progressing to figure out how to improve and be more efficient as they help students who struggle. 

Farrier reported that he’s been working on the 2021 district budget, including as many items as he can in order to have a working number later this month and to at least get the BOE a rollover budget projecting the district’s outlook. With a business meeting scheduled for later that week, he said one of the things he will continue to look at is the fund balance as well as reserves to possibly help with decreasing funding down the road. He also shared his hopes that some federal funding from the recently approved COVID-19 stimulus package will trickle down to Webutuck to help offset expenses down the road.

As of that day, Superintendent of Schools Raymond Castellani said the district was back in full remote instruction with the anticipation that it would move into the hybrid model by Jan. 11. He reported he had a meeting scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 6, with his fellow Dutchess County superintendents as well as the Dutchess County Department of Health (DOH) to get an update on COVID-19, adding that he would share the information with the BOE and the community if there were any new information. 

Castellani reported that the BOE has been struggling mildly to run its instructional program and operations smoothly. He explained it’s continuing to have people whose “normal regular positions changed to something else that is outside their job description in order to keep people employed, more so to make sure our organization is running efficiently.” 

School Resource Officer

Castellani specifically said he wanted guidance on the Webutuck school resource officer (SRO).

In his discussions with Dutchess County, Castellani was informed that Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Jeff Cohen, the Webutuck SRO, was promoted to detective. As a result, the sergeant from the SRO program told Castellani to consider hiring a replacement for Cohen. 

Castellani said he hesitated and told the sergeant that he’d like to postpone that discussion. That said, the superintendent said he was asking the BOE to suspend the agreement with the Sheriff’s Office, which provides the district with a deputy to serve as SRO,  until further notice.

As part of the ensuing discussion among school board members, Castellani said the district would not have an SRO as of Monday, Jan. 11. As far as how much the district would save, he said it would be half of what the SRO’s salary is, which currently totals $40,000. When asked if the SRO would be something the district would reinstate when students return full time, whenever that is, Castellani was unsure, although he said the district will have to let the Sheriff Office’s SRO program know by March.

“I want the relationship to be built first,” he said.

Even as the school district shifted to its remote and hybrid learning models, Castellani told the school board how Cohen had continued to foster relationships with students by visiting their homes.

BOE President Judy Moran said she was under the impression that when Webutuck went entirely remote, they weren’t paying the SRO. Castellani replied that they were paying him, but only on an as-needed basis. When Cohen was called in to do home visits, he was paid per visit. Castellani added they used Cohen’s services about a dozen times in the last year.

With the school district entering budget season, Castellani said he and Farrier have been talking about the fiscal plan and district facilities. As part of that discussion, he said they want to have a Finance Committee meeting sometime in February, followed quickly thereafter by a Facilities Committee meeting. 

A Finance Committee meeting was promptly scheduled via Zoom for 6 p.m. for Monday, Feb. 1, while a Facilities Committee meeting was scheduled for the following Monday, Feb. 8, at 6 p.m. via Zoom.

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