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On Tuesday, May 16, Arkport Central School District residents will consider a proposed $13.7 million 2023-24 budget that focuses on enhancing educational and extracurricular opportunities that align with the district’s strategic plan. The strategic plan focuses on creating a learning experience centered on resilience, courage, respect, critical thinking, responsibility and communication; skills the Arkport school community believes students need for future success.

The proposal includes a budget increase of 2.28% over the current year and a 1.25% tax levy increase. While the proposed spending plan incorporates a 4.0 full-time equivalent (FTE) reduction in staff to address enrollment changes, it preserves all current programs and services and continues years of progressively providing more opportunities for students, both in and out of the classroom.

Focus on academics

Despite having to find savings and efficiencies in the proposed 2023-24 school year budget, Arkport continues to deliver strong academic programs for students at all levels and is continually evaluating what students need to learn and grow. The district works diligently to offer enhanced academic opportunities that best serve students.

Response to Intervention. Arkport gives access to broadened response to intervention services (RTI) to all students in grades PK-6. RTI is a strategy that provides students with effective and high-quality instruction by continually monitoring their progress and implementing additional support. Described by Superintendent of Schools Jesse Harper as “WIN, or What I Need, RTI meets students where they are. If a student is struggling in a subject, they get RTI to assist them. If a student is advanced in a subject, they get RTI to challenge them. Most schools only have RTI for students who are struggling; Arkport is the only school I know of that has RTI services for every student in grades PK-6.”

Advanced courses at the middle school level. For a considerable amount of time, the district has offered advanced math at the middle school level and more recently has added advanced English language arts (ELA) and advanced science. Offering advanced core classes at the middle school level not only presents the opportunity for a rigorous education, it also allows the time to access a greater number of college level courses when students are juniors and seniors in high school.

Option to graduate with an associate degree. In the past, an Arkport student had the option of taking college courses while in high school and could graduate with 40-50+ college credits. While this was a great benefit, the district has recently solidified a partnership with Corning Community College to make those credits work even harder. Administrators have created a roadmap for interested students to earn college credits, whether online or in-person, towards an associate degree. Now students can earn an associate degree giving them an advantage when they graduate from Arkport schools; they are more qualified job candidates or will have a head start academically and financially if going on to college. This year, the first year this is possible, three students will graduate in June with a diploma from Arkport High School and an associate degree. 

Supporting students. In addition to covering textbook costs, the district also makes many college-level courses free. An in-house coordinator works with students to provide extra support. This added measure creates the right environment for students who are taking on the challenge of college-level coursework by teaching the subject matter but also by teaching students how to study, manage their time and handle the rigor of college-level studies. This added level of support prepares students – and their families – for the college experience. In addition, the district works with BOCES to ensure any of these aidable expenses are reimbursed.

Expanded extracurricular activities

A core philosophy at Arkport is that student participation both in and out of the classroom is fundamental to boosting academic success, improved attendance and a sense of community, which is the reasoning behind the district’s continued expansion of extracurricular offerings. 

By making a variety of extracurricular programs accessible, the district is helping students find their passion. Arkport has a clay target team, with more than 40 students participating. The archery team has been a big hit with 50 students taking part at 6:30 a.m. practices! Indoor track is new this year and the drama program has been recently expanded. With drama available at the elementary level, the entire program has grown, with over 100 students in grades 4-12 participating in two productions this school year. By increasing its extracurriculars, the district is connecting and motivating all students which can result in positive academic outcomes.

Extracurricular programs are not that different from academics; they both create learning opportunities and the development of essential skills. District administrators recognize their importance and are committed to supporting them. Even when the budget requires reductions and cost savings, the district has worked to continue putting forward a wide array of extracurriculars by leveraging BOCES aid and grants, such as one that covers transportation costs to state parks.

Cafeteria program

After 15 years of BOCES running Arkport’s food services, the district took over operations this year to considerable approval. While BOCES did an excellent job, the district saw an opportunity to utilize meal times as another educational experience for students. Just as in a classroom, Arkport students learn about nutrition and healthy food habits in the cafeteria. It serves as another area to deliver content. Each day, fresh fruits, vegetables and made-to-order options are available. “Try It Thursdays” introduces students to new and different foods. With the chance to vote, some items have been added to the regular menu, giving students a direct impact on the school menu. 

In terms of budget, the cafeteria, known as the “C fund,” is self-sufficient and a separate line item from the five main budget categories, general support, instruction, transportation, employee benefits and debt service. Even when BOCES ran the Arkport food service program, the district was responsible for purchasing materials and paying employment expenses, at the cost of approximately $50,000 per year. This school year the food services costs are approximately $40,000, resulting in more efficient operations and less expenses.

What’s more, by using food products from local sources and supporting local farmers and the local economy, Arkport is benefiting from the 30% New York State Initiative, which provides schools with increased reimbursement for the purchase of NYS food products for school lunch programs. As the district makes more connections with local farms and businesses, this initiative will become a greater source of aid.

While it was necessary to make reductions and to find efficiencies in the 2023-24 spending plan, the budget also allows Arkport to build on the progress from the past five to eight years. The district is preserving strong academic and extracurricular programs and will continue to do so. “The cuts and efficiencies we are making this year are part of our obligation to our taxpayers but it does not represent a step backward in regards to what we’re offering our students,” said Superintendent Jesse Harper. “I want our community to know that we still have fantastic programs, opportunities combined with a quality educational experience for all of our students.”

Budget vote day is Tuesday, May 16

Polls will be open from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., in the district’s small gymnasium. Please enter through the main entrance. Qualified voters who wish to vote by absentee ballot must submit an absentee ballot application. To request this application, please contact District Clerk Meghann Khork via email or by calling (607) 295-7471 ext. 1416. More information about voting can be found on the district website.

Also on the ballot

A separate proposition will appear on the ballot to lease one vehicle, at a total cost of $160,000. The New York State Department of Transportation requires that all school buses pass rigorous inspection criteria. In addition, Arkport residents will be asked to elect one member to the board of education for a five-year term (July 1, 2023-June 30, 2028). This vacancy was created by the expiration of the term of Board member Tracie McCarthy on June 30, 2023. The candidates are (in ballot order): Timothy Bailey, Tracie McCarthy.