There was a large audience at the Glen Cove Board of Education meeting of Monday, May 5, many there to express concerns about the rumored possibility of increased class sizes on the elementary level, specifically at Gribbin School, for the upcoming school year.
Board President Richard Tortorici commented at the meeting's start that he was aware that fliers with "fictitious" information were being circulated and stated that "This board takes class size very seriously, especially on the elementary level." He turned the microphone over to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Larry Aronstein, who reiterated Mr. Tortorici's commitment to low, yet realistic, class size. This year, the elementary classes average between 23 and 25 students per class. The Gribbin kindergarten currently has six sections; the first grade has five, and Dr. Aronstein acknowledged he has heard the concern of parents and teachers that the district will "shrink" the six sections into five. The superintendent said that, if necessary, the district will hire another teacher to guarantee class sizes remain at an average of no more than 25 students. "We will make appropriate adjustments," he said, adding his belief that the first grade is a vital year in children's schooling. There is sufficient room for an additional class, if needed. This year the district found it necessary to hire two part-time reading teachers to help mitigate class size midyear, and Dr. Aronstein said the district does not want to "get into the same bind" halfway through the upcoming year. "We will watch the numbers and make any needed adjustments," he said.
Part of the problem with assigning classes is that of transient students, those who come into or leave the district. Glen Cove, with a school population of approximately 3,000 students, has approximately 350 transient students, or 10 percent, per year, which makes the situation "challenging," said the superintendent, but added, "We cannot blame the children." Dr. Aronstein said the board would work on the numbers and present information at the next school board meeting.
Kevin Wurtz, assistant to the superintendent for business, then opened the budget hearing by stating that "Anyone who has been here for the last five meetings could probably do this as well as, or better than, me," but the job fell to him to present the proposed budget one last time.
The proposed budget for the upcoming school year is $67,502,044, a year-to-year increase of 2.99 percent, one of the lowest on Long Island, according to Dr. Aronstein. The proposed tax levy is a 4.70 percent increase. Mr. Wurtz explained that should the budget fail, the contingency, or austerity, budget for Glen Cove stands at a 5.91 tax levy, and a 3.78 percent budget-to-budget increase; under contingency, taxpayers will pay 1.21 percent more in taxes than with a passed budget. In addition, under the restraints of an austerity budget, the district would not be able to make any capital improvements, purchase any equipment in excess of $1,000, or have any flexibility with use of funds.
The mention of a contingency budget brought Dr. Aronstein back to the subject of class sizes. Under austerity, he said, the district would be unable to hire teachers for any additional classes. In fact, Mr. Tortorici reminded the public that the last time the district was on austerity, in 2005, it was necessary to lay off 10 teachers.
The next meeting of the Glen Cove Board of Education is Monday, May 19, 7:30 p.m. in the high school. The Glen Cove school budget and school board member vote is Tuesday, May 20 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.