Written by Melissa Argueta Friday, 12 March 2010 00:00
It was a full house on Tuesday, March 2, for the Garden City Board of Education budget work session. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Feirsen presented the continuation of his budget and recommendations to the Board of Education. The 2010-11 budget numbers were clearly influenced by the current state of the economy, with proposed reductions for nearly 11 teachers and 10 percent of middle and high school clubs.
The proposed overall budget is $98,275,256, with a budget-to-budget increase of $3,059,669 or 3.21 percent. The projected tax levy (with STAR) is 4.52 percent. The evening’s presentation focused on the instructional components of the budget, which totals 74.46 percent. The superintendent told the audience that these are only recommendations and have not yet been adopted by the board. “I have taken my responsibilities quite seriously and it has been a very difficult and a very challenging process this year, to say the least,” he stated.
Dr. Feirsen reiterated the mission of Garden City School District and also took a moment to acknowledge the district’s “tradition of excellence in academic achievement.” He listed highlights from some of the district’s most outstanding accomplishments, stating that “98 percent of students go on to higher education, 86 percent of graduates attend four-year colleges, 97 percent of graduates receive Regents diplomas, 76 percent of last year received Advanced Regents with Honors distinctions; and 75 percent of the class of 2009 was accepted to one of Princeton Review’s Best Colleges.” In addition, he said that according to a New York Times 10-year study of standardized tests, results ranked Garden City sixth in New York State.
The superintendent also pointed out that Garden City has the “only combination on Long Island of a fully accredited high school and middle school. He also said Garden City High School is a four-time winner of Scholar Athlete School of Distinction Award and has multiple scholar-athletes each year.” Dr. Feirsen also noted that Garden City Schools have strong programs in the arts, including multiple Grammy Award signature school nominations as one of the top 100 music programs in the country; excellent representation at All-State music festivals and a large number of students selected for All-County, Long Island String Festival and the All-County Art Festivals. Accomplishments in instruction were also heralded, with reading and writing initiatives that resulted in expanded classroom libraries in K-2; and implemented high school writing lab enhancements to name only a few.
Dr. Feirsen also stated in the presentation that New York State ranks Garden City eighth in wealth in Nassau County and ranks 31st in per pupil spending in Nassau, according to Questar State Aid Planning. He also said that Garden City has a low tax rate in comparison to other “high cost districts,” spending $15,761 per pupil. According to the budget, Jericho ranks at the top with $21,388 per pupil and Herrick’s the least with $15,232.
Staffing was a hot button topic of the night. The budget recommends a net reduction of 10.8 full time equivalents (FTE). This includes cutting four elementary school teachers, one elementary QUEST teacher, one elementary science specialist, one middle school grade six teacher, two high school teachers, two paraprofessionals, one clerical and one assistant principal. In addition, .2 QUEST section and .6 technology staff developer will be reduced. The superintendent proposed that class size guidelines be temporarily suspended. Classes for grades two through six will increase from the cap of 25 to 27. According to the budget, one QUEST teacher will remain and the quest program continues, but enrichment activities will be reduced or eliminated. The proposed increases included 3.0 FTE for general and special education, which is reserved for enrollment increases.
Other program reductions that were cited included a 10 percent reduction in clubs of middle school and high school; elimination of Junior Varsity B teams, eliminations of intramurals, and eliminations of middle school summer intramurals. Summer Academic Intervention Services (AIS) will be reduced from four weeks to two weeks and the technology budget will also be reduced.
Dr. Feirsen explained as the CEO of the district, he had to put the district’s mission and values into practice by “putting kids first.” He also described the difficult position of trying to balance sound financial decisions with what is best for the students. “I feel like I am pulled between a rock and a hard place,” he stated.
Treasurer Al Chase explained that the lion’s share of the budget, almost one third was a $7,200 increase in salaries for teachers, aides and monitors. He admitted that the reason for the increase was due to “contractual obligations” for health and pension insurance.
Residents were on hand to ask the board about the budget proposals. Garden City Board President Colleen Foley stated her position clearly. “There is not a single board member here who wants to cut a program, or do anything that some of us have spent 10 years building,” she said, adding that the superintendent has done a good job of giving a basis of where to go. She continued, “We approach this not business as usual. It’s not going to be business as usual for us going forward because it can’t be. If we put something back in, something might have to come out. There is an economic reality of how we have to plan for at least the next one to two years,” she said.
Concerned parents questioned the removal of caps on class sizes. One parent asked what the result would be of having more children per teacher since they already have a lot to contend with. Dr. Feirsen explained that there is no state requirement on class size and that research has shown that adding one or two children to each class does not adversely affect a child’s ability to learn.
One parent spoke out that while research may support larger class sizes, the truth is that parents want personalized attention and smaller class sizes for their children. Another parent was concerned about the after school clubs being reduced and recommended the board take out something else instead. The members of the board said they would take into consideration all comments from residents and parents before making any final decisions. Citizens are encouraged to voice their concerns during future budget meetings before the final vote on Tuesday, May 18.