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Karen Hugli Protests Vehemently Cuts to Lunch Room Aides

Many parents expressed relief during a proposed budget PowerPoint presentation Monday night to hear that the New Hyde Park—Garden City Park Board of Education will keep children activities and programs.

“Our driving force is that student achievement is first and foremost,” said Superintendent of Schools Robert Katulak. “Our goal was—we heard it from the public—‘please do not cut any academic programs, please do not cut our staff and support services.’”

However, not every staff member remained safe; 32 lunch aides will have their work-time cut a half hour, adding up to nearly 100 hours a year.

Karen Hugli, an aide at Hillside Grade School expressed her concerns for her “girls” who will ultimately suffer from this budget cut.

“A couple of years ago we were cut out of the classrooms; we used to sub in the classrooms which the teachers were very happy about because we knew the kids, we knew the teachers,” Hugli said. “Now they want to cut a half hour from 32 women. It’s a little outrageous with the price of gas, food, clothing, everything.”

A silent school board sat and patiently waited for Hugli to finish the talk in which she suggested there were other areas the board could cut, such as a security guard consultant, instead of the $40,000 for lunch aides.

Hugli continued, “Almost all the aides that you are planning on cutting a half hour are New Hyde Park residents and we are paying taxes, so why should we vote for the budget if you want to cut us? A half hour is a lot for these girls that are only working two and a half hours to begin with.  They depend on this money especially in this day and age. Everything is going up and they’re losing.”

While the board noted Hugli’s concerns, it was brought out that the 2011-2012 proposed budget is the lowest the New Hyde Park—Garden City Park School has been in seven years with a 2.97 percent increase compared to  3.13 percent last year or 10.48 percent in 2005-2006.

One of the largest cuts to this year’s proposed budget is the Contingency Position due to the board receiving $670,000 less in state aid. Although reluctant to let it go, the district cut the outdoor education program for the fifth and sixth graders.  Katulak said this loss will be offset by the new Project Adventure training for the physical education teachers, which will incorporate many of the activities into the classroom during the year.

“Unfortunately we had to cut back on summer workers that we normally have and we’re reducing one position, but a person will not lose their job,” Katulak said. “We’re adjusting some hours for security and reducing lunch monitors by half-an-hour each day—not during the time when they’re supervising students—but when they’re doing clerical work.”

The board said they chose that option instead of terminating six lunch monitor positions in order to keep the desired supervision of children without letting staff go.

Overall, the cuts made by the district total over $800,000 in the proposed budget. Assistant Superintendent of Business Michael Frank explained that the bulk of the $966,000 increase is because of the benefits determined by the State. Benefits such as Teacher and Employer Retirement Systems and the New York State Health Insurance Program are so high because the State decides how much will be paid. In addition, funds and reserves will be used to offset the tax levy.

The school district budget vote and election will take place on May 17 at Manor Oaks School from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Voting registration will be on May 10 at Manor Oaks School from 2 to 8 p.m., or a registration card can be picked up at anytime at the administration office at the Manor Oaks School.

If the proposed budget does not pass, the board can go right to a contingency budget (the state imposed cap on how much you can increase the budget by the previous year.) or hold a re-vote. If that second vote fails again, a contingency budget will automatically be used, meaning an additional $388,000 will be cut from the budget.

Michael Frank added, “Ultimately, on a contingency budget, we wouldn’t have a choice; all the equipment would have to come out and if we allow for the utilization of the athletic fields we will have to charge for their use.”

The meeting ended and the next meeting is set for after the spring vacation on May 9 at 8 p.m. at the Manor Oaks School, 1950 Hillside Avenue, New Hyde Park.