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Cheektowaga’s Joint School Boards want to get an early start on push for state aid

Before the dust even settles on the first quarter of the 2015-16 academic year, several area school districts will begin formulating a plan to push for more education funding in the 2016-17 state budget.

During Monday night’s Joint School Boards meeting, representatives of four Cheektowaga school boards – Maryvale, Cheektowaga Central, Cheektowaga-Sloan and Cleveland Hill – agreed that the plan to push for more funding will begin in September, when trustees will unite to outline a letter-writing campaign and other initiatives that will be implemented in November.

The decision to begin early was reached after several trustees expressed disappointment in this year’s advocacy initiatives, which included local and statewide teacher demonstrations targeting Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s refusal to release districts’ state financial aid figures, and his hard-line stand on linking school funding to teacher evaluations.

Maryvale Trustee Craig Meyers expressed frustration with this year’s initiatives to engage the wider public, saying he doesn’t believe Maryvale residents fully understand the ramifications of limited budget data, Cuomo’s desire to link funding to teacher evaluations and the gap elimination adjustment.

“I wanted to do more to get the word out there,” he said.

Others agreed, adding that while educators were deeply involved with protesting the budget process, representatives would like to see more parent involvement.

Cleveland Hill Superintendent Jon MacSwan said that the district participated in a letter-writing campaign to state officials, but it started too late because the budget process had already begun and by Monday’s meeting, the “three men in a room” had apparently come to an agreement on the state budget.

Maryvale Superintendent Deborah Ziolkowski suggested that the four districts work together next school year with the Erie County School Board to get lawmakers’ attention before the 2016-17 state budget process gets into full swing.

“There’s power in numbers,” she said.

Another project on which the four districts will join forces is marketing Cheektowaga schools, particularly to families who choose to send their children to charter schools.

Ziolkowski told her colleagues that next year, it will cost Maryvale about $26,000 for tuition and transportation for each charter school student in the district.

Cheektowaga Central School Board President Renee M. Wilson mentioned that the district recently discussed creating a marketing campaign to highlight the benefits of a Cheektowaga Central education, and others agreed that the four districts should work together.

MacSwan suggested hosting special open houses for charter school families, while Cheektowaga-Sloan Trustee Denise McCowan pitched the creation of brochures that could be placed at area chambers of commerce and town buildings.

Overall, Cleveland Hill Board President Robert Polino said that the group should attack the perception that public education is failing. Others agreed, decrying the negative news that schools and teachers often receive. Several suggested making sure that news about positive events also is being shared.

“We all know the fantastic things that are happening on a daily basis,” Polino said.

The next Joint School Boards meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 30 in the boardroom at Cheektowaga Central High School, 3600 Union Road.