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School Board Approves Budget With "Significant" Layoffs

Board Cuts Teachers, Programs, Buses

In front of a standing-room only crowd, the board of education voted Tuesday to approve a $42.99 million budget that will result in the layoffs of ten people, including nine teachers.

The board was forced to cut $1.2 million out of the budget after five of the six district unions either voted not to vote or outright refused a wage freeze. The board of education’s original budget, , was based on the assumption that all unions would accept a wage freeze.

“The decisions we make today will have a long-lasting impact,” Superintendent Jerome Belair said. “We wanted to make sure we put the least amount of impact on the children of these schools.”

Belair proposed cutting roughly $600,000 in operational costs and $600,000 in staffing costs. The $600,000 in staffing costs was not easy, but was necessary to balance the budget, Belair said.

The full-time staff members to be laid off, a list proposed by Belair and approved by the board of education, include: one middle school Spanish teacher, one high school Spanish teacher, one technology coordinator, one Great Neck Elementary School teacher, two Quaker Hill Elementary School teachers, two Oswegatchie Elementary School teachers and one special education secretary.

On top of that, other positions were reduced. They are: one elementary art school teacher, one elementary school music teacher, one elementary school gym teacher, one Waterford High School gym teacher, one Waterford High School French teacher and one Waterford High School business teacher.

On the operational side, other moves were made. Two school bus runs were eliminated, students must now pay for their caps and gowns and advance placement tests, Fast ForWord software was eliminated, study island software was eliminated, summer school was reduced, assistant coaches for both tennis and track were eliminated and the school delayed purchasing 30 new laptops.

The cuts listed were added to cuts previously made by the board of education in its first budget proposal. Overall, comparing July 1, 2011, to July 1, 2010, the board will lose 16.05 certified staff members and 10.33 non-certified staff members.

“When the times get tough, the tough get going and keeping moving forward with the district,” Belair said.

The board of education voted  7-1 to approve the new budget, with Tim Egan the sole vote against.

Debate On Athletics

After Belair’s presentation and some brief discussion by the board of education, the public was allowed to speak. Roughly 100 concerned residents went to the meeting, filling all the seats and leaving many to stand and watch.

While some speakers took aim at the board or administration, most focused on solutions to find funding for athletics and other programs in the budget.

Belair proposed eliminating the indoor track team and the golf team, along with several music programs. Many residents spoke against cutting those programs, arguing instead for the board of education to install a pay-to-participate system.

Board Chairman Donald Blevins originally was opposed to a pay-to participate system, saying “public education is the public’s responsibility.” However several residents said pay-to-participate is a much better alternative to cutting the program, and parents already pay for sports anyway.

“To say that public education is a free education is to not look at all the things we pay for,” said Teresa Wilensky, a mother of four. “We pay for the warm-up clothes, we pay to drive the kids all around … and we all pay for it anyway in our taxes.”

Wilensky, along with many other residents, said most parents would be more than willing to pay a $50 fee for their children to play sports. After the public’s testimony, Blevins, along with several other board of education members, changed his mind.

Belair said a pay-to-participate program on all activities with a $50 fee could probably bring in $50,000, enough to restore all the cuts to sports and activities. The board agreed to look and act on the issue of pay-to-participate at its next meeting on March 24, once the administration has exact numbers of how much revenue it could bring in.

TAG Controversy

Four middle school students, Sarah Karlberg, Kate Ashby, Lilly McCormick and Teresa Price, all again asked the board of education to reinstall the middle school talented and gifted program. The four students are all currently in the program, which is slated to be cut next year.

Many residents also buoyed the cause, asking the money from pay-to-participate be

used to fill that line item.

However to bring back TAG, the district would have to hire another teacher, probably at a $60,000 salary plus benefits, Blevins said. Getting that much revenue from pay-to-participate is nearly impossible, and saving TAG is highly unlikely, Belair said.

Mark Foster, a teacher within the district, offered to teach a TAG program after school. Specifics were not explained.

Kevin Girard March 16, 2011 at 12:03 PM
Thanks for the update Paul. Wish I could have been there. Kudos to Mr. Foster - that's the kind of *action* we need. Thank you Mr. Foster, the gift you've volunteered to giving is inspirational. Sucks to hear of the other cuts, especially in two areas that are probably already under-served - foreign language and music. Perhaps we could divert some of the $50K we're paying to design an animal shelter to the BoE. I like the pay-to-participate idea for sports, but for foreign language and music, not so much. If it has to be, it has to be. The one thing I still question though is how pay-to-participate can raise $50K. Are there really 1000 people ready to pay $50 to restore the things that were cut?
Rick Beaney March 16, 2011 at 12:49 PM
I was at the meeting last night. I think the example used on the pay-to-participate was $100 per participant with a $400 family max and it was just an example. I think the BOE has never given serious thought to pay-to-participate as I and several others raised the idea last year when Freshmen Sports was to be cut and received a very lukewarm response from the BOE. Waterford was blessed with Millstone revenue for years and could offer many things that other towns could not but it is time that reality has to sink in. If they had considered it last year, perhaps a system would be in place and there would be Freshmen Sports next year instead of it being cut. Those kids will never get to have that experience and memory. I hope they still look hard at it in time to save some / all of the programs that have been cut. If participants feel strongly enough about an extra-curricular activity, I think they should be willing to help fund the program. I personally would rather pay for my child to represent their town and high school versus an AAU or "travel" team. Those programs are fine but I think the kids learn and experience something special by representing their community. I also don't think that the pay-to-participate idea should only apply to sports but to any extra-curricular activity that requires funding. If there is enough support for a specific extra-curricular activity, be it sports, drama or music, pay-to-participate should apply to all to be fair.
Dave March 16, 2011 at 01:35 PM
Now if we could get back some of the $8000 that was spent on the Superintendent's office furniture maybe some of these programs would still be around. Once again the kids lose programs and 10 teachers lose their jobs. You never see cuts from the top down, always from the bottom up A total mismanagement of funds by the BOE.
All the best March 16, 2011 at 01:44 PM
Just a thought about saving teaching positions. Why not consider eliminating the business manager position in the BOE, when Mr. Deray retires and consolidating with the town, with only one business manager with a shared staff. This overhead would justify saving positions. This would be similar to the Human Resource position that was consolidated some years ago. To the Patch, this would be something to investigate for the best of this town. Lets work together!
Paul Petrone (Editor) March 16, 2011 at 02:02 PM
Rick, Belair did say that he a simulation on the amount of money that could be raised charging $100 per person, but that was just on sports. The board said $100 is too much, maybe $50, although they could install pay-to-participate in other areas as well, which could produce $50,000, Belair said. I believe he will get the exact numbers soon. You are right that the board was originally against the idea of pay-to-participate, but because of the public's strong support for pay-to-participate over just cutting programs, the board did change their mind. It appeared there would be strong support for installing pay-to-play by the end of meeting, and the board will make a decision on athletics next Thursday once Belair has the exact figures. Just judging from the tone of the board, I would be really suprised if the board did not install a pay-to-participate program. I think the bigger point here was the board individuals were against the idea, but after hearing the voice of the public, changed their mind. It shows both the importance of the public getting involved; and credit has to go to the board for listening to the people as opposed to just holding on to their own beliefs. Maybe some editorial comment there, but I think it is worth pointing out. Thanks for reading, Paul
Bob Price March 16, 2011 at 03:13 PM
The school would not have to spend $70,000 to restore the TAG program. The parents that are fighting to keep the TAG program realize that TAG in it's current form will have to be cut. However, we have suggested to the board last night and at previous meetings that they look at an after school program or other alternatives like putting all of the TAG students in the same math class. An after school program is not as ideal but in the current budget climate may be the best alternative. This would require a teacher stipend to teach the class after hours instead of a full-time position. I sincerely hope that the BOE considers this proposal.
Bob Price March 16, 2011 at 03:15 PM
I meant to suggest putting all of the TAG students in the same science class. I apologize.
Dot Concascia March 16, 2011 at 03:40 PM
Dot Sometimes sports is the reason kids stay in school. Some only achieve passing grades because sports might be taken away from them if they do not get good marks. It is a difficult time in some of the teenage years, and if we can keep them in school during this duration, because of sports, then we need to make this available. Maybe a fund raiser would help the situation. I'm sure the families of the ones involved would be willing. the graduation Party comes to mind.
Water Ford March 16, 2011 at 04:48 PM
FYI to our elected officials...read this associated press article posted on fox. Miami-Dade Voters Overwhelmingly Choose to Remove MayorMayor Carlos Alvarez was ousted Tuesday by voters angry over a property tax rate increase and salary raise for Miami-Dade employees in a county struggling to recover from the recession. Full artical at http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/03/16/miami-dade-voters-overwhelmingly-choose-remove-mayor/
Laura Mathiowetz March 16, 2011 at 10:20 PM
Many after school programs were cut from CLMS last year. MATHCOUNTS was among them. Parent volunteer, Dr. Kao, stepped up and ran the program after school this year. My 6th grade daughter was the only girl from CLMS who competed last month at the regional competition in New London. I would have loved to have seen more girls compete. Perhaps some of these young ladies representing TAG at the BOE meeting would consider participating in MATHCOUNTS next year? It is a program that is open to all interested students.
Equinox115 March 17, 2011 at 02:35 PM
Would retirements have helped reduce the layoffs? I'm sure there are numerous people who could retire, but have chosen not to do so. I respect that decision...however, for the good of the children, perhaps 5 top pay teachers or administrators could have retired to allow the 10 junior teachers to keep their jobs! I don't know this, I'm speculating that 5 retirements would have saved 10 jobs.

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