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Clarkstown School District quality

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I don't know where else to post this, so I'm doing it here. I'm new to Clarkstown - we moved here less than 6 months ago. We moved in part because we heard this was a great district in Rockland County; we have 2 children (one special-needs), and we wanted a district that would be great for both of them. 
I have been following the whole Congers Elementary bond issue with great interest the last few months. I joined the Clarkstown Parents to Save Schools facebook group, and I constantly find myself amazed by the amount of knowledge and passion these parents show. 
The Congers issue is extremely emotional, and I can literally feel the frustration and anger from both sides when they write. As a newcomer to the district, I am dismayed, however, when I keep reading in the comments about how this district is going downhill. My question - are things really that bad? Where were these voices when we were house-hunting? 
I feel naive asking this question, but I am serious. Are people generally unhappy with this district? Is it really losing a lot of programs and services? I just want to feel some reassurance that we made the right decision for our kids.
Thank you for reading this. I would appreciate any serious answers.  
Charles Clewsow January 31, 2014 at 10:32 PM
at 10:31 pm If you think that that Rockland County and the Clarkstown School Board were the only two entities mismanaged by selfish,self serving, bordering on being corrupt people, think again and read this eye opener......http://newcity.patch.com/groups/michael-n-hulls-blog/p/the-great-clarkstown-giveaway#comment-41174952.....Thankfully taxpayers have awakened some with the election of Ed Day as County Executive. We have to continually to remain diligent and elect people like Ed to our local offices and school board.
Charles Clewsow January 31, 2014 at 10:44 PM
Where has all the money gone in Clarkstown while our kids are in substandard buildings? It is not like taxpayers did not pay their "fair share" since we are in one of the highest taxed Towns in the United States? Where has all the money gone? Did someone steal it? Where did it go?
Rockland Resident January 31, 2014 at 10:52 PM
Charles, a lot of luxury spending...high salaries\pensions...and a lot of money spent on unfunded state mandates.
Rockland Resident January 31, 2014 at 10:55 PM
Anna, I think besides the high taxes - which you must have been aware of - people generally like living here, and are very happy with the schools. You will likely see some cuts to certain program and a moderate increase in class sizes. You may hear many people saying it will crush the district, but once things set in for a few months, people will likely move on to the issue of the day. Personally I think the changes required will have a minimal effect - still good teachers, no over-crowding, still good programs.
Charles Clewsow January 31, 2014 at 11:46 PM
Rockland Resident January 31, 2014 at 10:52 PM "Charles, a lot of luxury spending...high salaries\pensions...and a lot of money spent on unfunded state mandates.....That being the case.....It Sounds like the employees care more about their salaries and benefits than they do about teaching kids in substandard facilities. After all there is only so many tax dollars to go around and apparently little or none of it went to repair the physical plant? "
Felicia February 01, 2014 at 06:59 AM
Hi Sunny - Welcome to the neighborhood! The proof is in the pudding :) Clarkstown students graduate with skills above most and colleges and universities know it. Yes, the buildings are getting old, yes, there have been BOEs and administrators that have not always made the best choices... but Clarkstown is a top district in the country. It is also a very large district, and as with any large organization, there are variances of opinions.
Denise Farro February 01, 2014 at 07:12 AM
Welcome to the neighborhood! If you need any reassurances, please visit the CCSD website at www.ccsd.edu. While you are there, take a look at the "Clarkstown Graphic" which celebrates the accomplishments of the Class of 2013 http://www.ccsd.edu/news.cfm?story=1602. There is also a listing of "Awards and Accomplishments" that might be of interest - http://www.ccsd.edu/district.cfm?subpage=7922. And finally, if you have any questions about the upcoming bond vote, check out www.ccsd.edu/bond. Best wishes in your new home!
Donna Smith February 01, 2014 at 07:58 AM
Charles, didn't MK Kogen former superintendent leave Clarkstown with a negotiated full medical benefits package for life? Who made this deal? We are paying through the nose for her! This makes me wonder who else got these types of sweetheart deals. Taxpayers will be burdened with these fees for a very long time.
Charles Clewsow February 01, 2014 at 08:24 AM
Donna, the District is close to $200 MILLION in the RED, worse than Rockland County itself. Mind boggling. Any way you look at it, we ignored close to $200 Million in maintenance and repairs and we have some of the highest paid employees in the Country so it is not difficult to see what has transpired over the years. It has been sorely and haphazardly managed over the years. The former Superintendent is just one example. The kids suffer for it and we just want to paper over our problems with more bonds.
RJ February 01, 2014 at 09:19 AM
Hi Sunny, this is a great school district, particularly for a special needs child. Here's some advice. Most important is to remember that no one knows your child like you do. Follow your gut even if it means going against the advice of teachers, administrators, friends and even family. Next is to know your rights concerning a child with an IEP and then fight for those rights. Go to meetings and school functions and talk to as many parents as possible with special needs children. Use all their experiences as resources but still follow what YOU think is best. The special education teachers in Clarkstown are not only terrific teachers but are also amazing human beings from preschool right up through high school. I know throughout your life as a parent you constantly second guess yourself. Rest assured that moving to Clarkstown Schools was a good choice for your children. Good luck and welcome!
MitchP February 01, 2014 at 09:43 AM
Every school district in the country is having serious discussions concerning facilities, staffing, finances, and taxes...and yes our facilities need some TLC.
Mike Hirsch February 01, 2014 at 10:14 AM
Charles, let me tell you my thoughts on (1) the county finances, (2) the school finances, and (3) the town finances. (1) County - Yes, Vanderhoef, Cornell, and Schoenberger were wildly irresponsible for over a decade and put us in deep trouble, but with Ed Day at the helm, new leadership in the legislature, and a more active citizenry, this problem is starting to be addressed. (2) Schools - Yes, in times of plenty (pre 2008), taxes increased dramatically and no one cared. The watershed event that changed the mindset was the 2008 financial collapse and the defeat of the $187 million bond. The school board under Phil DeGaetano negotiated a new contract with the teacher's union, which saved us $40 million over I think a 5 year period, and the community started to get more involved. School tax increases have been minimal since then. Unfortunately, the very public fight between Phil and MKC got very personal and stained both Phil and MKC. I am not very impressed at all with our new superintendent who was hired by that board, but one good thing came out of those years of turmoil - voter participation doubled. (3) Town - Alex Gromack increased taxes about 30% during the years 2004 to 2008. I founded the Clarkstown Taxpayer Group in 2009. Since then town tax increases have been more or less acceptable, some elected officials (not Alex or Shirley) have refused salary increases, and the town has made some decent consolidations. The town politics are controlled by Alex and Ed Lettre, but that is also starting to change, though the town will not become fiscally responsible until Alex either retires or is voted out, as he does not have the proper mindset.
DTOMe February 01, 2014 at 10:41 AM
On the Special Education front: Hello, I share the same story as you do however I will tell you this, as a parent with special needs don't just take for granted and get complacent that the schools are compliant with your child's IEP and don't just take what they feed you that your child is getting everything they need. I am in your place. Check and confirm that your child is getting what is on the IEP. Teachers are wonderful but will never go against their administrators. This goes for any district, school, county and neighborhood. If you feel that your child is slipping and they say no, tell them to show the progress. We have awesome teachers in this district. It is why I moved here. However, we also have some that believe that your child is the problem. Learning for special education students is tough enough so be their best advocate and don't take what they say without proof. We have the testing available to show growth and regression, use it. They test our kids for everything else, don't drop the ball. Last but not least, save everything! Tests, report cards, progress reports, notes and past IEP's. They are your proof! If they say he is not doing well or that they are doing well it will show on the HW's and test scores on an everyday basis. It is your proof.. a couple of more things, do everything in writing, especially emails, to teachers and administrators. questions or concerns, because that is your proof and save a copy of it with every correspondence that you make and receive. You would be surprised at how when you are looking for evidence that it was right there under your nose in a past email. Every September, take a 2 pocket folder and label it September "2013-June 2014 or whatever year it is. keep all the work, test, letters and testing. file it away and don't throw it out until two years after your children graduate. if you get the runaround, file for impartial hearing. it's easy and they have to try to solve the problem before you go. Don't take anyone's word. Writing is the best policy. Clarkstown is a beautiful place to live and raise your kids but no matter where you live with special needs and education students, you have to keep a vigilant eye on the ones who are supposed to be helping. I have noticed that many of the parent here in Clarkstown never follow through on fighting for their children's needs. They are afraid of retribution or they say that they have an "in" with the district, so they don't have to fight and so on.. that is why everything should be done it writing. Your paying for it and this is the first place they cut no matter where you live and I know many will say that it is why the taxes are high but it is not, it's because they keep spending on frivolous things and patronage jobs and multiple administrators. I don't' regret my move here and in-fact I am enjoying my every waking day here. Just take a look around, it's fabulous.
Sunny February 01, 2014 at 09:03 PM
Thank you everyone for your warm welcome and your comments. I do feel we made a good decision in moving here; I have just felt some doubt when I was reading about the bond and some people's unhappiness on how the district is performing. Thank you especially to the readers who wrote in about special needs and IEPs. I will be careful and continue to be the best advocate for my child. Thanks again and cheers!
Charles Clewsow February 02, 2014 at 08:24 AM
Mike, the true costs of running the school district are not included in the school budgets otherwise the tax increase would have been much larger. My point is that the main expenses for the school district would have to be employees salaries/benefits and physical plant. If you exclude some of the expenses (Replacement Reserve) for physical plant and then try to paper over the inevitability of actual cost of replacements (aka Congers Elementary) we are not showing the true cost of running the district. We are just putting off expenses and paper overing them later with bonds that "cost just $26 a year" . Taxpayers are being deceived but the Unions love it. If we showed the true cost by annually reserving the cost of physical plant of repairs and replacements, there would be fewer dollars available for the Unions. That is why we have some if the highest paid employees in the Country right here in Clarkstown....and have such jobs as School Greeter in Congers.
Charles Clewsow February 02, 2014 at 08:51 AM
Please review and help if you can...https://www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/h8r3/free-speech-4-bloggers-defense?utm_source=giveforward&utm_medium=share&utm_campaign=dashboard&shareid=1732716
Mnebrod February 02, 2014 at 02:32 PM
Does anyone know if the current Special Education population at Congers Elementary was included in the numbers reported comparing all the schools in Clarkstown? Closing a school that currently holds a district Special Education Program will affect not only
One love February 02, 2014 at 03:11 PM
Those kids were not included Mnebrod. Morton kept referring to Mr. Fucci to make those plans.
Mnebrod February 02, 2014 at 04:03 PM
Wouldn't that bring our enrollment to approximately 266, yet it was reported as 234 in the comparison?
Rock1nRockland February 02, 2014 at 05:50 PM
Not sure of the exact numbers, but according to Morton that's not his department, so they were not included in his figures. It again shows a lack of clarity and direction of plan for the district as a whole. Bottom line is that this vote isn't about redistricting or programs, it's about allowing the district to obtain funds for repair of a school. I hope that the bond passes so the administration can make the best decisions they can for the district as a whole, which in my opinion starts with having all their buildings online and available. As for redistricting or programs, that is unfortunately a discussion that's sure to come our way, pass or fail.
Mnebrod February 03, 2014 at 02:04 AM
Ignoring a significant portion of the school's population, when making a recommendation is more than a lack of clarity.
Rock1nRockland February 03, 2014 at 08:54 AM
Yep, grossly unacceptable. We deserve better than this.
Overtaxed February 03, 2014 at 11:49 AM
more mischaracterization. Mr. Morton told us that Mr. Fucci was in charge of the special education kids. He was not trying to mislead, in fact, he was deferring to Mr Fucci who has the expertise in this area.
Rock1nRockland February 03, 2014 at 12:46 PM
Where is the mischaracterization here... Are these children not part of the equation? It doesn't matter who is in charge, fact stands that they were not included in the numbers and there is no clear plan for them as of yet. Again, a lack of clarity and direction for all parts of the whole.
Overtaxed February 03, 2014 at 01:00 PM
The mischaracterization is about Morton. People want to blame him for everything. It is my understanding that this would be Fucci's call. I think the BOE made it crystal clear that special education children would be taken care of.
Rock1nRockland February 03, 2014 at 03:35 PM
I hear what you are saying, but I think the frustration with Morton comes from the fact that as Superintendent, he's supposed to be the guy who steers the ship. So for him to put out any recommendation without having already conferred with Mr. Fucci casts an feeling of incompleteness on his potential plan. It's great that the BOE is committed to the children... It would be odd if they weren't. Let's just hope that whatever happens tomorrow, everyone can rally together for a complete future plan.
sbinder February 04, 2014 at 09:27 AM
Charles you need to do some research. A 2008 Journal News survey showed Clarkstown teachers to be the 2nd lowest paid in the county. The district also has the reputation as the toughest in the county to gain tenure. I'm not complaining(and most teachers don't) that they should get more. There are many issues involved here and they all should be strongly considered in whether to vote yes or no. However the constant demonizing of teachers by some here is sad. http://www.lohud.com/article/99999999/DATABASE04/80111001/School-salaries-Teachers-superintendents-more
Charles Clewsow February 04, 2014 at 12:55 PM
If we had years of 6-7% tax increases in a very low inflationary period and the money did not go for the school physical plant then it had togotoward school employees! salaries! medical and pensions. Pointing to other highly paid employees for comparison is not productive.
sbinder February 04, 2014 at 01:04 PM
well business people are always talking market market market! The fact is Clarsktown is paying teachers BELOW market value for the area. How much lower do they need to go to satisfy you? Pay cuts every year?
Overtaxed February 04, 2014 at 01:35 PM
Teacher salaries and pensions are BY FAR the largest expense of the district.

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