By Holly Crocco
The Mahopac School Board is convening a selection committee of about 60 people to meet February through April to consider a new mascot for the district.
While the matter has been brought up throughout the years, it came to ahead in November after the State Education Department declared that districts need to eliminate any mascots, logos and imagery that have to do with Native Americans. Local school boards must adopt their plans to do so by the end of this school year.
While the district needs to change its mascot from the Mahopac Indians, it is unclear as to whether it needs to change its logo, which is a capital “M” with an arrow through it.
Superintendent of Schools Christine Tona explained at the Jan. 17 school board workshop meeting that the goal of the selection committee will be to narrow the options down to two choices, to be put to a vote among all the students in kindergarten through grade 12. A subcommittee of students will then present the winning mascot to the school board at its May 18 meeting, and the board will have to approve the decision for the new mascot to be accepted.
If it is determined that a new logo is also needed, that will be created over the summer and announced in September.
Those invited to serve on the selection committee will be middle school and high school students, student-athletes, the district’s athletic director, coaches, representatives from various bargaining units, alumni, and community members that include parents, and members of the local Rotary Club and historical society, and other organizations.
Tona said it is important to the board and the administration that students play a role in choosing the district’s next mascot.
“It’s allowing the students of the district, whether they are in kindergarten or 12th grade, to decide on the future of what the mascot will look like,” she said.
The district invites the community to provide data, views or arguments regarding NYSED’s regulation on the mascot during the public comment period, which ends Feb. 28. Comments may be directed to Christina Coughlin, assistant commissioner of NYSED, at 89 Washington Ave., Room 1078 EBA, Albany, N.Y. 12234; 815-474-7206; or email@example.com.
The board must adopt a plan to change the mascot by June 30.
Also during last week’s workshop meeting, Tona presented a preliminary budget outline to the board. While the state had not yet released its state aid information, the district made projections about next year’s budget numbers.
The state-mandated cap on the property tax levy is expected to be about $95.4 million, an increase of 3.44 percent, or $3,176 from this year.
Major cost drivers in next year’s budget include contractual salaries; an increase to BOCES services that include a regional information center, special education and career technology, of about 2 percent; a 5.5 percent increase to employee health insurance; a 2 percent increase in transportation costs; a 2 percent increase in utility costs; and various unfunded mandates – including costs associated with replacing the district’s mascot.
In addition, there will be an increase to the Employee Retirement System contribution rate, bringing it to 13.1 percent (up from 11.6 percent); as well as a slight decrease to the Teacher Retirement System contribution rate, bringing it to between 9.5 and 10 percent (from 10.29 percent).
Tona said budget priorities are to maintain academic programs and extracurricular activities; expand opportunities for high school curriculum pathways; reorganize the administrative team including special education, technology, security and key cabinet roles, and adding a dedicated assistant principal in each elementary school; and continue the district’s bus replacement schedule.
Enrollment in the 2023-24 school year across the five schools is projected to stay steady, at 3,774 (from 3,815 this school year). That information is based on local birth rates over the years, but Tona noted it is not always an accurate reflection due to families that relocate to the area.
“We’ve had a lot of people moving into the area from New York City, so we don’t know how accurate those numbers are,” she said. “That’s why it’s important to project high.”
If these numbers stay true, the average class size for kids in kindergarten through grade five will remain capped at 24.
Presentations on different aspects of the budget will continue at future meetings.