The Springs School District is considering laying off four teachers and two teaching assistants, as well as eliminating some extracurricular programs next year to make sure its 2012-13 budget complies with a New York State-imposed 2-percent tax levy cap.
The School Board voted not to pierce the tax levy cap at a budget work session last Wednesday. The board then deliberated over a list of 25 academic programs in an attempt to reach a consensus over whether it should cut programs entirely, fund them partially or keep them in place next year.
“This is going to be very emotional for everyone,” warned School Board President Kathee Burke Gonzalez before going down the list. “No amount of School Board training prepares you for this moment.”
The fiercest debate centered on whether the district should adopt a departmentalized middle school model for its sixth grade classes. That would result in the laying off of three teachers while saving $200,000. Almost all the School Board members voted in favor of the model, except Timothy Frazier, who is also the principal of the Southampton Intermediate School.
“This will tear apart this school by doing this model …” Mr. Frazier said. “You’re taking teachers out of their certification area, sixth grade down to elementary, taking teachers, well respected and getting rid of them.”
Other cuts board members agreed to would eliminate two full-time teaching assistants in the first grade, lay off one English as a Second Language teacher and replace the position with a lower salaried employee and cut funding for extracurricular activities in half, from $70,000 to $35,000. They also agreed to go from a nine-period day to an eight-period day, which would force four full-time middle school teachers into part-time status.
No board members were in favor of piercing the tax levy cap.
“I think that we’ve been in a protracted recession and that our community has always been very generous to the school and I think that folks are struggling,” said Ms. Burke Gonzalez.
Mr. Frazier delivered an impassioned plea in an effort to sway other board members’ minds against adopting the middle school model for sixth grade. He suggested making other cuts instead, including cutting two teaching assistants in kindergarten, opting to go for a part-time library media specialist instead of a full-time employee and other program cuts. “I’m telling you, the students are going to get harmed in a way that’s going to change the dynamics of the school,” he said.
But Vice President John B. Grant and Ms. Burke Gonzalez disagreed. Mr. Grant said he didn’t see a way of achieving cuts to comply with the tax cap without reducing staff. He said on his priority list it’s “students first, taxpayer second and staff third.”
Superintendent Michael Hartner said the board’s decisions on the sixth grade middle school model and the eight-period day aren’t final yet. Board members plan to discuss Mr. Frazier’s concerns in coming weeks, he said.
Last Friday, Mr. Hartner explained the reasoning behind the middle school model for the sixth grade. He pointed out that the current elementary school model, in which one teacher teaches all the main subject areas— instead of the middle school model, in which students are taught by teachers with specialized training in those subjects— is a “vestige of the late 1960s.” Academic requirements now are much more demanding and the world is a different place, he added. Mr. Hartner said most sixth grade classes in New York follow the middle school model.
He also added that it’s likely any staff that would get cut this year could be hired back because he anticipates a number of teachers will be retiring in the near future.
Board members also agreed to eliminate a stipend for the Science Olympiad competition and halve the amount spent on educational field trips from $30,000 to $15,000. The board also agreed to get rid of $40,000 in funding for Project MOST, an after-school program.
On the subject of Project MOST, board member Teresa Schurr voted to continue funding the program, which she said is valuable to the school. “It’s not a lot of money for what that program brings to the school,” she said.
Mr. Grant, however, said he couldn’t support it. “We’re laying off teachers,” he said. “We’re laying off staff. I’m making decisions about people I know and care about and work with and I just can’t support something that’s outside of the school day at this point.”
District Treasurer Colleen Card delivered a final presentation on tax levy limit figures at the start of the meeting. According to Ms. Card, the district’s 2012-13 school spending is limited to $24.6 million, about $200,000 less than the current budget of $24.8 million.