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State recognizes middle school for ‘character’

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CHATHAM–The school board approved an increase in the district’s real property tax exemption at its meeting this week. It also learned that the middle school has earned statewide distinction.

The exemption is designed to help district residents with disabilities, seniors and volunteer firefighters and emergency responders.

District Superintendent Cheryl Nuciforo said at the Tuesday, February 9 meeting, that the exemption is a “way to offer some tax relief to the people that need it the most.” The new adjustment means the maximum exemption of 50% will apply to incomes of up $29,000 annually. Smaller exemptions determined by a sliding scale are available to eligible taxpayers with annual incomes of up to $37,400. Before the change, the exemption applied to incomes from $26,000 to $34,400.

Board member Francis Iaconetti stressed the importance of getting the information out to eligible community members. He said that they must apply for the exemption every year and the deadline for this year is March 1. He suggested people contact their town assessors. Ms. Nuciforo said the information would be on the district website, www.chathamcentralschools.com.

At the meeting the board also celebrated the middle school’s recognition as 2010 New York State School of Character. Principal Gordon Fitting said that only one school is the state is awarded the title and staff at that school spend the year mentoring other schools in the Character Education program. The school will also compete nationally for a title that comes with grant money. The state award comes from the Academy of Character Education at Russell Sage Colleges.

The board heard from many teachers, guidance counselors, students and mentors about the program. Camille Freedner, a teaching assistant involved in the program, said that two students in the middle school recently cut their hair and donated it to “Locks of Love,” while other students raise money for the local food pantry and ask for donations to charities instead of birthday gifts.

“They come in and say: Look what we did for character education, and that speaks volumes [about] our program,” she said.

In late January the school was honored by Assemblymen Marc Molinaro (R-103rd) on the floor of the Assembly in Albany. Mr. Fitting said school officials are waiting to hear about the national honor. They hope to get a visit in the coming months from people associated with the program.

Board of Education President John Wapner praised the middle school staff for sticking with the program. “It’s really heartwarming when you can have a moment like this,” he said.

The board also heard from science teacher Sandy Fischer about adding a University in the High School Global Environment course. The University in the High School classes offer students three credits in the SUNY system, which provides more opportunities for the students than an advanced placement course,  said Ms. Fischer. The proposal will be discussed again at later meetings.

The board also began discussion on the budget. Ms. Nuciforo said the Financial Committee met early that day and spent many hours going over the numbers. She said they were looking at the governor’s state aid proposals in the executive budget released last month, but she warned, “He may come out with an amended budget,” which could mean more cuts. “The numbers change day by day by day,” she said.

The district is looking at a reduction in the budget of between $1.2 and $1.4 million. She said that staff reductions will be necessary and the district will look carefully at programming in all the schools.

The next board meeting will be Tuesday February 23rd at 6:30 p.m. in the high school library.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email eteasdale@columbiapaper.com.

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