Gowanda Board of Education discusses grant

GOWANDA – Since a tied vote at a previous Gowanda Board of Education meeting, the Safe Routes to School grant has not seen any action.

Residents attended a recent meeting to address the school board to see if there was progress on the grant.

The school was awarded a $650,000 Safe Routes to School grant which will pay for sidewalk and crosswalk repair and improvement, a creekside path along Cattaraugus Creek and education on healthy lifestyles for students and pedestrian safety. A school board vote in November to continue discussion with the village of Gowanda concluded in a 3-3 vote, leaving the project up in the air. Since that vote, the board has not discussed or acted upon the matter.

Irene Koch, who has previously addressed the board about SRTS, urged the board of education to enter into an agreement with the village. She said if the board had concerns about the creekside path’s safety, there is no way to keep students off the path currently. The grant is not about a direct route to school, she said, but an incentive to get students moving physically.

“It would benefit the village and I cannot understand your reluctance to take advantage (of this grant),” Koch said.

Mike Hutchinson, who has worked on the grant application, said the district and village could teach students leadership and how two municipal boards can come together to work.

“Through our differences, we have the opportunity to show leadership and show our students the good we can do,” he said. “… together we make better decisions.”

Resident Michael Hodak suggested the district look into an outside source, such as a mediator, if the district is having complications communicating with the village. Board member Sheri Wing wanted to vote “yes” or “no” to keep the communication and the grant possibility open. Wing said she was against the project in the beginning, but has since changed her mind once learning about the crosswalk and sidewalk repair and improvement monies in the grant. She said “it’s a shame” for the district to throw away the grant money if the two boards cannot agree.

Both members Cynthia Sutherland and Sue Flaherty had questions concerning the grant they still would like to be answered before moving forward. Among the unanswered questions that were raised were the creekside walk and its design, insurance and liability concerns on the walk and vandalism concerns if Hillis Field were to be part of the path. Mark Nephew, board member, said it is possible that the New York State Department of Conservation would take an easement along the creek so the property would not be owned by the school.

The majority of the board agreed to have Superinten-dent Charles Rinaldi meet with village officials for more information.

The board also held a public hearing on a sliding scale for both the Senior Citizen and Persons with Disabilities tax exemptions. The sliding scale starts at $18,500 or less for 50 percent exemption, but increases to $22,300 but less than $24,200 for a 20 percent exemption for both the aged and persons with disabilities tax exemptions. Both were passed unanimously by the board and will be implemented for 2014.

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