The Farmingdale Board of Education recently held a special meeting and a regular meeting regarding, among other issues, staffing concerns at Howitt Middle School once the sixth-grade class moves into the building in September. At both meetings, residents and district employees were on hand to offer suggestions and pleas regarding the issues at hand, which, in addition to middle school staffing, also included administration at Woodward Parkway and Farmingdale High School.
In regard to the middle school, the board is in the process of deciding what additional support staff will be necessary once the sixth-grade class moves in, including the need for additional pupil personnel and administrative support.
Now that the board is in preliminary budget talks, they are faced with many decisions, including staffing at not only the middle school but also the other schools in the district. They are predominantly focusing on the middle school since that is where the big change will take place in the district this September, resulting in the need to hire new teachers, administrators, support staff, custodians, librarians and secretaries.
The board felt a special meeting last Saturday was necessary as not only are they faced with putting together a budget in the upcoming months but are now also faced with the possibility of as much as a 17 percent cut in state aid for the upcoming school year.
While putting together a proposed budget is always a challenge, the board and administration is further challenged by this proposed cut in state aid. They are looking to cut fees in any area possible and made a decision at the last meeting to add a fee to the school's driver education program and also to increase the fee of instrument rentals in an effort to save as many funds as possible.
In regard to middle school staffing, some residents and teachers at the meetings suggested that Howitt follow the model of the high school. Some suggestions included having a three dean system, like the high school's system (which has two assistant principals and four deans), providing an administrator for each grade level.
A Howitt student and school personnel also expressed that there is a need for additional security at the middle school, especially once the sixth-graders move there. They said that in security they don't necessarily mean security guards, just an increase in adult supervision, especially since there have been many fights occurring either in school or soon after school hours. The student who addressed the board said that if students who heard about fights could inform an adult about them, then they may be able to be prevented.
In addition to a dean system and an increase in supervisors, residents and teachers also suggested that additional guidance counselors, psychiatrists and other support staff would be a welcome addition at the middle school.
The board is looking into various possibilities regarding staffing and will further discuss such issues at future meetings.
There has also been some concern expressed by residents regarding the fifth and sixth grade graduations this year. Since both the current fifth and sixth grade students will be moving to Howitt in September, it was necessary to plan two graduation ceremonies. After meetings with parents, the four elementary school principals suggested to the board that both ceremonies be held on the same day, with the fifth grade ceremony taking place in the afternoon and the sixth grade ceremony being held in the evening. The board told concerned parents, at the last several meetings, that other than time, the ceremonies should be exactly the same.
At Wednesday's meeting, board members, after being presented with pleas from parents as well as a petition, decided to review the graduation ceremonies again. Many parents argued that both ceremonies should take place in the evening. Since many parents brought forth heart-felt views regarding the time of the ceremonies, particularly that of the fifth-grade, the board said they will again review the current plan after speaking to the principals of the elementary schools and will try to accommodate as many people as possible in making their final decision.
These issues, as well as other budget discussions, will continue to be addressed at future meetings. Board members said they were very pleased to see the great turnout at the last few meetings and hope that community members continue to attend upcoming meetings.
"We care about the children of this school district first and foremost," said Board President Anthony Vitale. "And we also care about the taxpayers." He and fellow board members, as they do at all meetings, urged residents to come out and express their opinions and views. They said that this time of year is most critical for the community to be involved since they are discussing the budget for the 2003-2004 school year. (See sidebar on page 1 for dates of future budget discussions and regular board meetings).