At its Tuesday, March 23, meeting, the Guilderland Board of Education held an informal hearing on the 2010-11 school year budget, with the public urging the district to be equitable in making cuts to balance the budget.
The public comments began with two parents urging the district to not raise kindergarten class sizes.
The chances that 24 5-year-olds are going to be in a room for six hours it’s not going to be effective,` said Joanne Ryan.
Ryan’s husband, Tim Ryan, said a number of other items cut from the budget can be replaced over time, but `what you can’t take back is a kid’s first year in the school district.`
Christy McCain, the mother of a special needs student currently sent out of district for services, at a cost of $60,000 per year, said the district should consider providing more in-house services for special needs students.
`Providing programs within would be much more cost-effective,` she said.
Kevin Mawson, the father of a student with Down’s syndrome at Farnsworth Middle School, said that the cuts to 36.3 special education teaching assistants and the special education administrator at the middle school, are not equitable.
`I beg of you to make sure cuts that are made are fair and equitable to all students,` he said.
A number of people advocating for the continuation of the middle school’s German-language program noted statistics about use of the German in the world today, and said the language offering makes the district unique.
`It saddens me to think the great opportunity open to me won’t be open to younger students,` said Sarah Jones, a sixth-grader at Farnsworth.
After the public comment period, Neil Sanders, assistant superintendent for business for the district, gave a brief synopsis of the budget as it currently stands.
He talked about balancing the $7 million budget deficit through a 3.61 percent increase in the tax levy, the use of rainy day funds, program cuts and cutting 10.7 elementary teaching positions, 4.65 middle school teaching positions and 7 high school teaching positions.
The budget also calls for the elimination of 36.3 special education teaching positions and a number of administration and support positions.
`We have to balance students’ needs and taxpayers,` said Sanders.
After his brief presentation, each member of the School Board commented on information they would like from the school district, and what they would like to see put back, or taken out of the budget.
School Board President Richard Weisz gave the most long-winded list of concerns to the district’s administration.
`Do we, as a board, have any say in the health-care options we can offer the staff?` he said.
He also suggested raising the costs of parking passes to $100, and using the extra money to fund co-curricular activities.
Weisz inquired about the costs of keeping the foreign language program intact and restoring some of the special education teaching positions. He also asked the district to consider the feasibility of bringing special education students who are currently attending private school back into the district.
Cathy Barber, vice-president of the school board, said she was also concerned about staffing levels in special education. She also voiced her concerns about the district completely cutting the Foreign Language Elementary School program, or FLES.
`I’m concerned about completely eliminating FLES. Once these things are gone, they don’t tend to come back very easily,` she said.
Barber also wanted more information about interest in the district’s German program.
`I’ve been hearing over the years about a low enrollment in German, and that has been an issue,` she said.
A number of board members brought up concerns over the elimination of the teacher leader positions, which help to guide curriculum. Board Member Judy Slack said the addition of an administrator position will not be sufficient to make up for the loss of the teacher leader positions.
Board Members Emilio Genzano and Barbara Fraterrigo said they were concerned about costs associated with the district’s implementation of full-day kindergarten, and Fraterrigo put forth the idea to return to the half day format.
`Half-day kindergarten, I think, is something we really need to look at,` said Fraterrigo. `We lived without it for so many years, and our kids were still successful.`
Cuneo said she wanted the district to present the board with different options, in a tiered system.
`I’m curious to know if there are any more options we can be presented with,` she said.
The board will have a special meeting on Wednesday, March 31, and will vote on the budget at the Tuesday, April 13, meeting. The budget will then be presented to voters for approval on Tuesday, May 18.