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Paul Ehrbar Will Not Run For School Re-election; Chris Turner Will

At the last Herricks School Board meeting, Trustee Paul Ehrbar made the following announcement:

“My term is up this year for my position on the school board and after lengthy discussions with a number of people, especially my wife, I have determined that I will not run for school board next year.  

“I have enjoyed my second term here and I have worked very hard, but my time elsewhere has limited my ability to get involved with many liaisons, so I will not run. I thank everyone for their support and I will stay involved with the community”

Trustee Chris Turner said, “On behalf of the board I would like to thank Paul Ehrbar for coming forward when we had a vacancy on the board and we appointed him to fill out the year and we were grateful that he chose to run in the school board election. When he came on the board he had previously been on the Herricks board for nine years so we didn’t have to miss a beat. We didn’t have to train him, he was ready to go and he has participated actively for the last two years.  We appreciate all that you have done.  We know now since you have so many new roles it would be impossible to run for re-election. For those who don’t know, Paul Ehrbar is the mayor of Williston Park and co-president of the Herricks Community Fund, so I am sure we will be seeing him around.”

Turner continued, “Along those same lines, I will be seeking re-election to the Herricks School Board.  As many of you know I have served on this board of education for 21 years and, as many of you know, I am passionate about the schools and the community of Herricks.  I feel I have made a positive contribution these past years in many different areas and I feel like the years ahead will be very difficult, not only for our school district, but for public education in general.  Public education will be fighting an uphill battle both financially and legislatively.  I again believe I can be helpful in the educational direction Herricks takes.  There are many wonderful programs currently in place that promote success for all students.  We have to look for creative ways to help these programs and to still be fiscally responsible for all residents.  I believe that the thing that has made our community what it is today is the teamwork, I have always said I firmly believe it is the work for everyone in the community.  The PTAs, the parents, the school board, the administrators and the teachers.  Everyone working together.  When Hillary Clinton said, ‘It Takes A Village to Raise A Child’, I truly believe that.  And it wasn’t for all the work that everyone in this community does, Herricks would not be what it is.  One of the things that I feel so badly about is the fact that I hope that does not change in Herricks.  We are going through bad times and I hope that does not pit against parents and groups against each other.  That would be a shame.  I hope that what the district faces we can all work together and look for solutions to the problems.  It is not going to be easy.”

Herricks Board President Chris Turner made the following statement:

“At the January 20 board meeting the president of the Herricks Teacher’s Association (HTA) made the following statement:

‘In light of the financial crisis facing the Herricks School District the Herricks Teacher’s Association agrees that it is necessary to enter into serious dialogue with the Herricks Board of Education.

‘We hope that our conversations can lead to solutions which made ease the burden facing the Herricks community.’

Turner went on to say, “Unfortunately, not withstanding the district’s efforts there was no dialogue until this week as we waited for the HTA to decide whether or not they would talk with our representatives.  When they finally did talk to our attorney on March 7, almost seven weeks after the January 20 statement, our attorney was presented with a proposal that would save roughly $1 million by our calculations as well as theirs.  

“However, $750,000 would be through HTA givebacks and $350,000 would be estimated net savings from proposed retirement incentives. It should be noted that we do not consider a retirement incentive a concession or a giveback on the part of any bargaining group.

 “These savings were contingent on:

 “Guaranteeing all HTA jobs for the 2011-’12 school year thereby tying the board’s hands in preventing it from making cuts that would prove necessary in light of savings required to pass a budget.  Extending all contracts by one or two years with step plus percentage increases as follows:  Teachers a one-year extension.  Step plus 2.25.  Secretaries and custodians two years extension, step plus 1.8.  Teaching assistants one-year extension, step plus 2.25 and passing the budget.

“We estimate the cost of guaranteeing all HTA positions, teachers, secretaries, custodians, teacher assistants and aides to be $4.2 million above the 2 percent draft budget.

“The challenges facing the Herricks community and the Herricks schools have been clear since last fall.  We had hoped to be able to work on these challenges together.  Unfortunately, with regards to the HTA this is not the case.  They refused any discussion in the fall and then did not become engaged even after they said they would in January.

“The proposal we received this week is not just a case of too little too late.  It is late, far too late and the reality is that it is extraordinarily out of step with the feelings of this community and it is also out of step with what bargaining group in other school districts have done to help their schools and their communities through these difficult times.  

“Given the fact that time has almost run out on the budgeting process it appears that the window of opportunity for the HTA to meaningful partner with the board on addressing these concerns has closed.  We have always had and will continue to have deep respect for the work of what our staff does for this community.  We proudly tout what they do and we believe that their efforts compare favorably with not only the best in New York but in fact, the best in the United States.  

“We still believe that but we are, however, extremely disappointed by the response of the association to the crisis that confronts us.  A crisis that may be more serious than any we have ever seen for decades. Thank you.”

One resident wanted to know if the status of the Herricks Association of Administrators and Supervisors (HAAS). Turner said,  “The board approves the memorandum of Agreement between the district and HAAS, dated March 10, regarding amendments to the 2009-’14 collective bargaining agreement between the parties.”

Questions from the Public

In answer to a question from a resident, Turner announced that the board has been debating about what a 2 percent budget would look like that would cut approximately $5 million out of the budget and what a budget of 6.64 percent would look like, which would not make any cuts in the budget.

President Turner said that the school board would announce the amount of the adopted budget at the March 24 meeting to be held at 7:15 p.m. at the Center Street School.  She said that the board has been discussing these two options for weeks and the board just might come up with something in between.  

Trustee Dr. Sanjay Jain said that both options could be seen on the Herricks website.

Another resident wanted to know if the Gemini Program would be cut or reduced and he said that he wanted to make sure that this did not happen. Several other residents also said they wanted to make sure that the Gemini Program would remain in tact.

President Turner said that the Gemini Program would definitely be discussed to see what could be done and many people pleaded that the Gemini program not be cut.

Another resident asked President Turner in all of her 21 years on the board, has she ever seen the union so unwilling to compromise with the school board.

Superintendent Dr. Jack Bierwirth said it wasn’t a time to discuss this subject in public but Turner said, “Well, I have to be honest with you.  This is a unique situation.  We did have cutbacks in the ‘90s but it never got to the point where anything was ever asked or anything like this ever came up.  This is definitely a unique and different situation than I have ever seen. We have an attorney that is negotiating for us.  Is it disappointing, yes, of course it is.  We on the board wish it was different, but it is not.”

Another resident wanted to know why the budget proposal was made so far in advance of the board vote and Dr. Bierwirth said it was to have time to be able to get the information out to all the residents.

Still another resident said that she would be more than happy to pay the additional taxes just to make sure that nothing was cut from the budget.

Turner pointed out that there are some residents who do feel that way, but others who are on fixed budgets would find that increase impossible.

Another resident said that in Westchester many of the districts fundraise and use the funds to save programs.

Turner said that was a possibility as well.  It was pointed out that no one person could give funds to save a teacher position, but monies could be donated to the district and then the district could use them for whatever they would see fit.  

Buckley Makes Compromise Budget Proposal

Herricks Board Vice-President Richard Buckley said, “The board has been hearing, at all of these meetings from the residents, that a budget somewhere in between the 2 percent cut and the 6.64 percent cut would be something that perhaps should be considered.

He said, “So if it’s 2 percent, we propose adding an additional $1 million to bring it up to 2 ½ percent to 3 percent.  The following, therefore, would be what we would put back into the budget:

“1.  Restore one of the two Gemini position.  2. Two-ESL positions.  That program would need two positions because the problem is logistical because at the secondary level the programs cannot be scheduled as tightly as might be done otherwise.  3. Special Education teachers in the amount of 1.4 restored back to the budget.  4.  Four computer lab technical assistants added back to budget  5.  One music teacher. 6. Add security for about $75,000. 7.  Add back Boston trip which is $25,000. 8.  Restore $60,000 of the $90,000 that was cut to clubs. 9.  Restore the drama to the high school.  10. Restore $175,000 to the $250,000 cut from the athletics program.  

“All this totals to roughly $1 million. We can’t go back to 6.5 but we are still making drastic cuts, but we are trying to bring back some of these cuts.”

Turner added that in discussing problems with the Athletic Boosters it was suggested that one way to make sure programs were not cut was to charge the students a fee for those programs.  She said, “When my daughter was playing basketball at the high school I would have been more than happy to pay a nominal fee for her to continue to play and to perhaps cover the cost of the uniforms. And, that’s fair because the residents who don’t have anybody playing sports are not burdened with those costs.

Turner continued, “This could also apply to clubs and we would not have to cut them either, if we charged a nominal fee.”

Dr. Bierwirth said prior to the adoption of the budget he would like to discuss this concept with the principals to see how many students this might entail.

Trustee Ehrbar wanted to know if it would be mandatory”  Dr. Bierwirth said it would be much like Frost Valley. “We could scholarship students.  If you pay lacrosse, unless you can’t afford the fee, you would be asked to pay the fee,” he said.

Turner said, “If we did that then we wouldn’t have to cut the extra-curricular activities that occur after school.”

Trustee Peter Grisafi said, “It becomes a slippery slope when we subsidize programs, even if they are after-school programs.”

Superintendent Bierwirth said he felt it was an opportunity at least to be able to keep some of the programs and the subsidized programs would only apply to those programs that were not academic programs.”

The discussion continued on and finally ended and the Herricks School board members will announce on March 24 their decision as to what budget they will present before the public for a vote.

The March 24 meeting will be held at the Center Street School, at 7:15 p.m.