The Glen Cove Board of Education meeting Monday night was filled with concerned residents, most notably a huge group of students. The public had come out in large numbers to hear the latest budget presentation and to voice questions and concerns on staff and program cuts. They were asked to not name specific school employees.
Before the public addressed the board, Superintendent Dr. Laurence Aronstein delivered a PowerPoint presentation on the basics of where the school's needs are at financially after New York State has finally confirmed its budget and subsequently its aid to Glen Cove. He said the line-by-line version of what was presented would be available online.
State aid to the schools is down $273,302 from 2008-09, a 3.36 percent decrease. Contractual salaries are up 3.5 percent in all units. Along with other decreased income, the schools will have $588,286 less revenue than last year, or a 4.56 percent decrease. Because the required additional revenue for next year is $1,667,835, the resulting tax levy is 4.13 percent higher. The school district budget on which residents will be voting on May 19 is proposed at $69,169,879, up 2.47 percent.
Along with this increase, the schools have been projecting staff and program cuts to make what the superintendent recommends to the board as a feasible budget.
Among these cuts, according to the proposal, business education is being cut down in availability. Guidance counselors are being reduced, with one sharing time between the middle and high schools. A floating nurse would be cut and other classes would be reduced in availability due to staff decreases. Driver's Education would be changed to be tuition-based. The district will explore parking buses on the property rather than paying for the salary and gas it takes to get the rented buses driven to and from the school every day. Frost Valley would be cut to three days from five.
Capital projects were mentioned, including some bathroom refurbishment, gym floor repairs and window and door replacement at the high school and water damage repair, security cameras, dry well, carpeting and a food heating / warming station in lieu of a kitchen at the elementaries.
Glen Cove students showed great unity and poise at Monday's meeting. Members of the board and administration commended their support for one another and their communication skills. Each time a student got up to speak, the entire student body present also stood, to signify that they were all there together, with common goals. Their concerns were that the loss of programs and staff would damage their educational experience.
A senior named Kevin began, standing to protest the elimination of a physical education teacher who many students had grown attached to.
"That teacher was planning to stay and build the school, year after year. He was one in a million. He made everyone's day better," he said. "He was what would make me want to have a child here. I would be so sad if he became a gift to another district." The room was loud with applause at this.
A junior followed these sentiments, bringing a petition up to the board, signed by 210 students. They want the board to find a way for all jobs to remain intact next year.
"I know it sounds like minimal changes when you put a point before each cut of a person," he said, "but the success from this is short term."
He said he would rather not spend money on bathrooms and locker rooms that "won't teach anything," if it meant keeping teachers instead. Again, clapping and approval showed support for his concerns.
The junior class president next said that staff cuts have already made following a consistent curriculum impossible. He had to stop taking his language class because it was only offered once a day and conflicted with a core class that he needed to graduate. He said if classes were more flexible they might not be eliminated when they have small enrollment, being that enrollment is down because of scheduling conflicts. Along these lines, he lamented the loss of guidance staff.
"We need them to get into college," he said.
A senior agreed, "How can I run in and get college stuff done if they might not be in at the time I have a free period." (Since they would be splitting time at the middle school.)
A concerned mother stood up on this issue as well and said that her child and family have had a three-year relationship with their counselor as they worked together toward college.
"You can't do this to kids going into their senior year," she said. "These are people helping create who they're going to be when they grow up."
A girl said that if classes like business were being cut because of low enrollment, the school should push students to take classes that will "actually help" them in their lives. "The school should push guidance to push the kids to take business classes instead of studio art or something... marketing or personal finance or accounting."
On the changes to driver's ed, two driving instructors stood up to talk, stating that 16 teens die each day in accidents.
"Think about what you are going to 'kill'," one teacher said. "And I use that word."
A big question from several residents was the alternative high school. Dr. Aronstein said that it is important for certain students who are not doing well to be removed from their school for a year to do things like "working through" baggage, overcoming disabilities and getting back on track to graduate and succeed. Because of this, he supports the separate school, which was said to cost $394,713. Many residents asked if the money from that school could be used for other purposes.
"I know it is a good program, but my son is losing a guidance counselor," a concerned father said.
Joel Sunshine of the board warned that it was misleading to think of savings there, because some of the money would not be a savings.
"A lot of that is salary," he said. "So we would need more teachers here."
The superintendent said that teachers there are higher priority with tenure and might result in other teachers being eliminated if they came to the high school. He said that $211,000 would be eliminated in rent for the separate school at the Boys & Girls Club, but besides pushing out current high school teachers, there would be a need for more classes and new expenses would be created at the high school.
"Society is judged on how we help the most needy. You can't judge this program as a per-capita price tag," he said. "These are students who had spent a year or more in high school and went to the program with zero credits. Now the majority are on track to graduate and are passing Regents."
"Those kids could succeed here," a resident retorted.
"No, they weren't," said the superintendent. "They were at the high school and they were failing."
A student who had benefited from the program stood up and said that because of a disability, she needed the alternative high school.
"I wouldn't get the grades I have now. Some kids need a little help. If it wasn't for that school, I would have dropped out."
Rick Smith asked why Glen Cove could not have the students from the alternative high school on the grounds rather than off-site renting. The superintendent said that it would cost more to build a facility.
A mother called that school one of several "big ticket" items that should be looked at carefully as possible cuts. She protested several "steps backwards," including the reduction of electives, which could mean more free time, and the loss of a floating nurse. She said substitute nurses are harder to find than substitute teachers.
A student said that he disagreed with the loss of a nurse as well. His friend broke his leg last week on school grounds and there was no medical staff on-site to respond.
The overwhelming sentiment from students and adults was a desire for the school to come up with a different budget, one that did not cut the things they cared about. Several students asked the board and district to basically, "Try again."
"Please take our opinions into account," said a student. "Please look again if there is some other way."
Zefy Christopoulos summed it up by asking, "What are we willing to do? For the students and the school." She asked what else could be done to keep the school functioning and offering the items that everyone was lamenting. She reminded everyone of Nassau County employees who offered to take a pay cut in order to keep all staff employed.
"We're obviously succeeding," she said about the school in general, alluding to the huge student presence. Garnering standing applause when she said, "This is the best civics lesson I have seen here in 22 years."
P.T.A. President Donna Brady went further saying it was a relatively small amount needed to keep things as is.
"Salaries are the bulk," she said. "If unions take a pinch and taxpayers take a pinch, we could save jobs and save the district."
Responding in general to the idea of pay cuts, Karen Ferguson, president of the Teachers Association said that teachers should not be the "scapegoats." "I am obligated to make a comment she said."
She said that teachers have been "dragged through" a long process in trying to get a pay raise for several years. "Members won't agree to a cut," she said. "It took two and a half years to get a raise.
She said that she felt the administration did not include the union in budget planning. She said that the P.T.A. administration and unions should discuss how grants are used. She said she has been frustrated when seeking information on certain school expenditures.
"We have never been a part of the process for the budget," she said.
A gentleman got up to give a perspective different than most in the room. While everyone was seeking for programs to be kept and jobs saved, he warned that the proposed cuts could be a harsh but necessary reality. He said he had just been laid off; and while some employers, like the county, seem to be able to make things work out, many cannot.
"Life is not fair," he said. "There is no justice."
Generally, in response to the protests, Board of Education President Kurt Schmeller said that they were doing what they could. He reminded that there is a hard balance to be found in keeping services without raising taxes too much.