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.
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.