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Board will engage facilitator to help run fiscal focus groups

The Holland School Board agreed Monday night to bring in a professional facilitator to help run focus groups that will meet to discuss solutions to the district's financial woes.

Superintendent Dennis Johnson said 40 people have signed up to join the focus groups, which will be asked to bring their recommendations to the School Board.

Board member Steve Marom said their input is vital.

"What we need is not one idea, but a bunch of ideas. We need radical ideas," Marom said.

The decision follows a presentation last week by Richard Timbs, executive director of the Statewide School Financial Consortium, in which the district's financial outlook was painted in bleak terms. On the present course, the district could slide millions of dollars into debt in just a few years.

Speculation that the district is bracing to close one of its three buildings is rampant.

Marom said that although he is not in favor of closing a school building, the district cannot move forward "nickel and diming" its way to a solution.

Johnson told the board it was critical that the focus groups have a facilitator to guide them and ensure good notes would be taken. He expected it would take two meetings to gather the ideas and have them ready for the board's October meeting.

The superintendent also offered the board the opportunity to have someone other than Timbs do the follow-up presentation. At a cost of $1,500, to have the executive return, Johnson said there were other professionals in Western New York, including former superintendents, who could bring the ideas together and present them to the community.

The board, however, was unanimous in asking for Timbs to return and be the presenter at the follow-up program Oct. 27, when options likely will be determined.

In a related matter, resident Taina Armstrong-Hoffman brought a signed petition to the board asking that Timbs complete presentation be made available to residents on the district website.

Eighteen pages of the 57-page presentation already are on the website, www.holland.wnyric.org, District Clerk Linda Poplewski said.

The board agreed to make the remainder available.