Friday, 11 February 2011 00:00
The first discussion regarding next year’s Glen Cove School District budget took place at Robert M. Finley Middle School in Glen Cove Monday night as the board of education heard presentations from the administration on a plan that could save the district big money: returning to an eight period school day at the high school and middle school. Vice President Gail Nedbor-Gross and Trustee David Huggins were absent from the meeting.
“We begin this process of budget discussions at a very critical time in our economy,” began Interim Superintendent Dr. Joseph A. Laria. He then went on to explain that the goal of the board is to come up with a preliminary tax levy increase of 3-4 percent. He said that the rollover budget would be a 7.5 percent budget-to-budget increase, and 9.14 percent tax levy increase. Therefore, $3.6 million would need to be cut from the budget to come up with a 3 percent tax levy, and $3 million would have to be cut for a 4 percent tax levy increase. If next year’s budget were to go on contingency, $4.2 million would have to be cut from the budget.
“The cuts here are draconian,” Dr. Laria said. “And the budget crisis this year is not just a one year event – it’s more like a three year event. I have been doing school budgets for 32 years as a superintendent, and this is the worst I’ve ever seen in my whole career.”
“This is not to paint a picture of doom and gloom; it’s the reality,” he said. “We are in a mess, and we’re going to get out of it.”
He then turned the meeting over to the administrators presenting the cost benefit analysis of returning to an eight period day. He said it would generate a savings of approximately $1.6 million, and they need direction from the board on how to proceed.
Principal Anael Alston and assistant principals Lawrence Carroll and Craig Johanson from the middle school made their case for an eight period day. They said the length of the school day would not change; however, each period would last 45 minutes instead of 41 minutes. The school would have pure teaming instead of the “hybrid” they currently have, band would meet every other day and hall passing time would be reduced by one minute between classes.
Trustee Joel Sunshine asked, “What is the entire downside of an eight period day?”
It was explained that students would receive less mathematics instruction and less ELA instruction unless the student needs additional instruction, and sixth-graders would have to choose between chorus, band and orchestra, whereas they can currently choose two out of three.
Dr. Shari Camhi, assistant superintendent for curriculum, said that in some cases, instruction would be moved into other areas, such as moving computers into technology classes.
The administrators all said they were in favor of the idea, and that benefits would be gained from pure teaming. Since teachers are working together, they can plan together and switch hours if needed, to allow for special events, for example.
Mr. Sunshine asked why the school had changed to a nine period day several years ago, and Dr. Laria said that it had happened under a superintendent who wanted to offer more music classes.
Some disagreement then took place among audience members, one who argued that it was for academic instruction, while another said that it had been because of parents who were upset that music courses weren’t offered during the school day.
“So you’re cutting the music program in half, essentially,” said one woman. “That’s a new precedent for this district.”
Another parent asked what this new schedule would do to the honors program and the administrators responded that there would be two sections of honors and no significant change to the program.
Next, Glen Cove High School Principal Dr. Joseph Hinton, assistant principals Sheryl Goodine and Allen Hudson and guidance chairperson Salvatore Bellafiore presented their case for the reduced period school day. The administrators said that by returning to an eight period day, more students would have a full schedule, eliminating the free periods many currently have. With the 45-minute periods, students would receive four extra minutes of office hours at the end of every day. Dr. Hinton explained that kids would have to choose between chorus or band; currently nine students are involved in both.
Mr. Sunshine reiterated that he wanted to know the downside of the change upfront and asked, “What will we get yelled at for in June, or next September? We went from eight to nine periods for a reason. I understand that this is about money, but what are we losing?”
The administrators stated that in the end, students will have fewer choices and will have to decide what courses they want to take.
Board President Ida McQuair said, “It’s very clear that the music program will be affected. We are cognizant of that and are trying to find other ways to save the Fine Arts program.”
Karen Ferguson asked if there was a possibility of offering music courses after the school day. “There are kids who major in music in college, who make a career out of it, and they need these courses.”
Dr. Camhi said it would take some time to look into and work out details but there is a possibility of offering a ninth period music class, if they can get late buses.
The budget discussions will continue through April, and the board is scheduled to adopt a budget on April 10.
“There have been so many cuts in this district over the years, that right now it’s like we’re cutting into bone marrow,” said Dr. Laria. “Every item that we have to cut will have a special interest group to voice their opinions and that’s wonderful…but we are in this together and will have a lot of shared sacrifice and pain.”