VCSD decides against SRO, seeks to add dean-counselor, vice principal instead

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

Pictured is Voorheesville Elementary School Principal Jeff Vivenzio performing bus duty.

NEW SCOTLAND — Heading into the 2023-24 school year, the Voorheesville Central School District is looking to add a vice principal at its middle and high school and a dean-counselor at its elementary school while the district will likely head into next year without a school resource officer.

Superintendent Frank Macri told members during a January meeting of the school board’s ad-hoc safety committee that he “cannot right now recommend an SRO for the district because there are other things that we need to do first.”

He said there are “other layers” that need to be in place before he can recommend a school resource officer for the district. “If we bring in an SRO, now they would become a pseudo-assistant principal and pseudo-dean. And it really isn’t what we need. That’s not what their job is.”

Macri said what the district is prepared for and what it needs are two different things. 

As part of the proposed 2023-24 school budget, Macri recommended the creation of a “teacher on alternative assignment” position at the elementary school, which he referred to as a TOSA, the acronym associated with the job’s actual title: teacher on special assignment.

The elementary school TOSA position would be that of a half dean of students and half guidance counselor, he said, while the person’s certification would be that of a guidance counselor. The dean-counselor, Macri said, would be considered a teacher (in that the position would fall under that union’s contract), and not an administrator. Coupled with the existing social worker and guidance counselor already at the school, Macri said the addition of the half-guidance counselor brings the district’s student ratio down to the recommended guidance of under 1 to 250. 

For the dean of students portion of the job, Macri noted that the current elementary principal, Jeff Vivenzio, spends 45 minutes every morning and afternoon on bus duty, which is supervision a dean should be doing. “That’s time that he could be working with staff, doing instructional models, doing other things that he should be doing,” Macri said. And it was noted Vivenzio will also be dealing with the upcoming multi-millionaire-dollar capital project. 


Middle and high school

At the middle and high school, Macri recommended the creation of a new administrator position: assistant principal. It wasn’t too long ago that Voorheesville had assistant principals, within the past decade, but the position was eliminated. 

Joe Sapienza, Voorheesville’s athletic director, is currently filling the role of dean, which Macri said was “impossible” to do. “Like, it’s really just impossible,” because the dean is supposed to be the assistant principal for grades six through 12, because of all that position encompasses.

“You have to know every single kid’s name, you’ve got to be in the lunchroom, you’ve got to be in the hallways ... you have to know the interactions, you have to be on top of those referrals [when a matter, in this case disciplinary, is referred by a teacher to the administration],” Macri said. “To be a disciplinarian, it’s a full-time job.

One guidance counselor serves the middle school and two serve the high school in addition to a full-time social worker. At the middle and high school, the district is currently exceeding recommended guidelines for its student to guidance-counselor and social-worker ratio, Macri said. 

Macri noted, when there is a disciplinary or peer-conflict issue to be dealt with, it’s the middle-school counselor who is taking on that role, effectively becoming a “pseudo-dean, and “that’s really not his role … His role should be doing some mediations and doing those things, but he’s got a guidance counselor’s job that he’s supposed to be doing.”

Macri said he still has to “figure out the range” that the assistant principal “would work with,” meaning he’d like to see the position’s disciplinary aspects, the dean part of the job, applicable to just a portion of the student body, perhaps students in grades six through nine or 10. Because the eighth- to ninth-grade “transition is really important … That’s a lot developmentally; there’s a lot of changes that go on in there,” Macri said. “And somebody knowing those kids all the way through that is extremely important.”

Macri said he thought the athletic director could act as dean for 11th and 12th graders because “it’s a different level; it really is … After they hit 10th grade, it starts to be changed by 11th grade and 12th grade. It’s a completely different person.”

The person filling the new vice-principal position would also take on the work of the district’s equity officer, a task currently being split between Macri and Karen Conroy. “So seven or eight hats will be removed from different current positions,” board President Rachel Gilker observed. 

“Not fully removed, because there’s always accountability and ownership,” Macri responded. “But at least leveled.”

Board member Tim Kremer asked Macri his general opinion on whether social and emotional needs are more intense at the elementary level or at the middle and high school level.

Framing his answer in dollars and cents, Macri said, “If you’re going to have budgetary concerns and you have to make a choice between high school and elementary,” elementary school “is your foundation.”

“If you start cutting program and people at the elementary school, that could have a negative impact on students,” Macri said. “Right? You’ve got to put your efforts in down there, because what you put in there changes [students].”

Macri then came back to his point about middle school being a developmentally difficult time for students, saying that, even though “the foundations that they have might be lost for a little while,” it’s important they have a “really strong component” in elementary school on which they can build. 


Budget blowback? 

Macri was asked what sort of pushback he anticipated.

As someone who’s been a proponent of school resource officers in the past at previous districts where he worked in addition to voicing his support for the position during Voorheesville School Board meetings, Macri said “I think people need to understand, right, that you can’t have the icing if you don’t have the foundation of what you need,” he responded. 

He said, “I’ve had resource officers before; I understand their need and use. But if you don’t have those other layers, yet, I can’t justify them.”

Macri said one of the officers who attends the district’s regular safety committee meeting was surprised to learn there wasn’t an assistant principal at the upper campus. “He thought we did,” Macri said. “Because it’s a layer that really is needed.”

And it was noted that the district had improved its safety metrics in a recent assessment by the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, which was “very surprised” by the progress made since the last safety evaluation, in 2020.

Ultimately, Macri said he didn’t really anticipate a rebuke over the decision to add the new posts, but added this caveat: There could be pushback “on where the budget lies.”

Macri said, “Whenever you add to an administrative line in a budget, I think there’s always pushback, ‘Oh, we’re just putting in another layer of bureaucracy or putting another layer of administration.’ So I think there will be that concern.”

At $30 million, the district’s initial draft budget for the 2023-24 school year is up 6.7 percent over this year’s voter-approved spending plan. Salaries, specifically, are set to rise 8.6 percent from this year, from $13.3 million to $14.5 million. The year-over-year salary rate increase proposed for next year is double the next largest jump over the past five years; three of the past five budgets saw year-over-year declines in district payouts.

Voorheesville has been one of few school local districts to have its enrollment increase as of late, especially at the elementary level, where a recently-approved  capital project is slated to help ease that burden. This year, there are nearly 1,250 students, according to preliminary data filed with the state; the district hit a two-decade low during the 2015-16 school year, when enrollment was 1,160.

During the Jan. 30 ad hoc safety meeting, Macri was asked where Voorheesville stood in comparison to other schools with its student-to-administrator ratio. He could not immediately answer the question. 

In 2019, as prescription drug costs threw the district’s budget process for a loop, some residents, including the board’s current president, prescribed administrative cuts as a salve to Voorheesville’s budget woes.

Gilker said at the time that none of the proposed cuts, at least four teacher or teacher-related positions, seemed to affect the administration. “I know I’m not alone in asking if there are redundancies or ways that jobs can be combined,” Gilker said of the district’s administrative positions in 2019. “Because all these cuts directly impact the students.”

 A 2019 analysis of district administration spending as compared to six other similar component districts of Capital Region BOCES — Cobleskill-Richmondville; Cohoes; Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk; Schalmont; Schoharie; and Watervliet — showed that Voorheesville spent 5.89 percent of its budget on administrative costs, which was less than just two other districts: Cobleskill-Richmondville and Watervliet .

When compared to the 11 other school districts in Albany County, Voorheesville’s administrative spending was less than all but three districts — Watervliet; the city of Albany; and South Colonie. And, when compared to 13 other area school districts with similar enrollment, Voorheesville was eighth out of 14 in administrative spending.

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