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Phillips responds to WGFA

In the interest of full disclosure and the fact that the Watkins Glen Faculty Association made public its displeasure with recent decisions made by the Board of Education, I feel compelled to share -- with the public -- Superintendent Tom Phillips' response to the WGFA letter. Please know that our Board of Education has always relied on data and facts in making our decisions.

Brian J. O'Donnell
Watkins Glen Board of Education


June 21, 2013

To: Kate Bartholomew, President
Liam O’Kane, Vice President
Watkins Glen Faculty Association

Kate and Liam:

Thank you for your letter dated June 21, 2013. I find it troubling that you start your letter “On behalf of the members of the Watkins Glen Faculty Association…” When I inquired with several of your members regarding this missive, they were unaware that this was even sent to the Superintendent and Board of Education (minus one member). I respectfully request that you share your original letter and this response with each member of your Association as a means of establishing an inclusive environment of communication between all members of the Watkins Glen family.

As for the specifics of your concern…..I will not address the emotional embellishment of the letter:

Reduction of 39.5 staff:

Fact: In 2011 the Master Schedule for the High School alone identified 31 classes of 10 or fewer students.

Fact: In 2011 the Master Schedule for the High School identified another 16 classes of fewer than 15 students.

Fact: From 1980 to the current year, WGCSD has lost over 500 students in enrollment.

Fact: In 2009 enrollment at the High School was 458. As of June 2013, the enrollment at the High School is 360.

Fact: In spite of the reductions cited, WGCSD still offers Elementary Art, Music, and Physical Education by certified professionals in these fields (not mandated). Also offered are elective courses in the High School such as Business Education, ACE, AP, Modern Africa and Model UN as a credit bearing course, (I challenge you to identify any other school in our Region or State which offers this), Mandarin Chinese and American Sign Language. Some students in the graduating class of 2013 are leaving the High School with 15-20 college credits.

Fact: The approved reorganization plan includes the reassignment of the current Faculty Manager as Elementary Teacher, resulting in the restoration of an eliminated position.

Fact: Student Support: WGCSD offers certified school counselors at the Elementary (not mandated), Middle and High School. In spite of declining enrollment we have maintained a counselor at each level. Additionally, WGCSD has preserved the district position of School Psychologist and, thanks to the effort of Nan Woodworth-Shaw, we were able to secure an intern Psychologist for the 2013-14 school year. WGCSD is the largest provider of Career Development Services in the entire GST BOCES region. Through collaborative effort with the County and Village we are able to provide additional mental health services and a School Resource Officer to our children and school community.

The “Extra” position as you state in your letter:

Fact: You accurately cite the increased burden of teachers having to enter data and monitor what they report. Now think of the fact that every teacher file which is created includes class roster, student data, SLO data, APPR data which has to be reviewed by a Certified Administrator and submitted to the State as correct or changed to reflect the accuracy of what is being reported. This is the first year of the complete data reporting at the High School level as they were not a part of this system in the past.

Fact: WGCSD is transitioning to a single campus and, with the potential retirement of a current Administrator at the end of 2013-14 school year, there is opportunity to plan for consistent transition. The closing of the Middle School and consolidation of the 7-12 program is going to be challenging enough; why not have someone in place who can collaborate with the current 9-12 Principal? The guidance and understanding provided by an experienced Administrator will ensure a coherent transition from 7-8 to 7-12 Administration.

The suggestion of a “Reading” Teacher is in my opinion pedagogically flawed. The
teaching of reading must be integrated into a rich literacy curriculum and not the sole responsibility of a teacher outside of the literacy curriculum. I will be happy to review and revise what is happening in the early grades for children who are not reading or experiencing problems with reading.

The Afterschool program:

Fact: We were notified less than a week ago of the loss of Federal grant monies that support this program. In that time period I have reached out to Jim Frame, Superintendent of Odessa Montour, Debbie McDonald of Catholic Charities and Tim O’Hearn, Schuyler County Administrator to set up a meeting to brainstorm ideas to restore this program on a County-wide basis.

Fact: The District is also an applicant for the Carol Ann White Physical Education Federal Grant. Should we receive this grant, we would review the appropriations of monies in an effort to support afterschool programming.

Fact: There are monies in the budget to provide tutoring, intramurals, study groups and other activities. These monies are dedicated to the Faculty and staff as dictated by the WGFA contract.

Fact: The current program is operated by federal and state regulations that do not necessarily conform to the WGFA contract. I do recall a conflict at the beginning of this program when the federally contracted rate for employees was well below the stated Teacher rates of pay for “extra-duties”.

Fact: If that program was to be restored by the WGCSD we would be required to follow the negotiated collective bargaining agreements for District employees. Currently the Director of the program is not a member of any District bargaining unit. As you can see this is certainly an issue that must be resolved.

As for the healthcare issue: This community and I are forever grateful to all employees including the Clerical, CSEA, Administrator’s Association and non-affiliated employee units for their willingness and understanding of the impending crisis in healthcare facing the nation and the District.

Fact: Please remember no unit member or employee is paying more than 15% of their premium for this benefit.

Fact: While the district was able to greatly reduce expenditures we are also well aware of impending negotiations of contracts for WGFA and the Administrator’s Association for the 2014 school year. This will be an
additional recurring budget expenditure (unlike the Administrative position).

As the Superintendent, it is my responsibility to look at the data, plan for the future and make the tough decisions necessary to balance the needs our children and the ability of the taxpayers to fiscally meet those needs. While I clearly understand the “We” vs. “Them” tone in this letter the reality of the situation is “We” are “Them”. With no District there would be no WGFA and with No WGFA there would be no District…It really is that simple. My hope is that we can collaboratively work as a district to achieve excellence for the children we serve.


Thomas J. Phillips
Superintendent of Schools

© The Odessa File 2013
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869