Written by Matthew Ern Friday, 11 April 2014 00:00
Discussion over testing and class size opened a debate on spending at a New Hyde Park-Garden City Park Board of Education work session on Monday, March 31.
The board voted unanimously to reduce the maximum class size for grades 3-6 to 27 from 29 students and to create an additional fifth-grade class next year. These changes will be up for review next year.
Reducing class size becomes a gamble if an unexpected amount of new students transfer to the district mid-year, according to district officials. If a class goes over the maximum, the district will have to hire additional aides.
The board determined that 27 was the smallest sustainable class size, given the current operating budget. Trustee Jennifer Kerrane felt that the district could tap money from reserves to further reduce class size, since many parents see it as a major issue.
“If we’re not giving them what they’re asking for then we’re failing them,” Kerrane said.
Vice President Patricia Rudd cautioned against such a move, emphasizing that reserve funds are meant for emergencies.
“Class size is very important but we also have to be careful what programs we cut,” she said. “Once we cut a program it’s not coming back. If we keep borrowing from our fund balance we are going to end up like some districts in upstate New York that are failing right now. We are just holding on.” For Kerrane, class size constitutes the type of rainy day problem the money was set aside for.
Kerrane also clashed with other trustees on standardized testing. Eighteen students districtwide had opted out of the following day’s test at the time of the board meeting. Currently, students who opt out must remain in their classroom.
State rules say “those students cannot be given busywork to do during this time because that gives them an unfair advantage over their peers taking the test,” explained Superintendent Robert Katulak. They can “sit and stare” or read quietly.
The issue arose because one parent, who views non-test takers as a potential distraction, asked that one be removed from her child’s classroom.
For Board President Ernest Gentile, the request wasn’t worth the resources that it would take to fulfill.
“You’re going to utilize a teacher or proctor in the library for one child?” he said. “Why should we give in for one person? This isn’t an issue districtwide.”
Kerrane supported the parent’s request and asked that students who opt out be removed from the classrooms.
“We do a lot of things we don’t have to do,” said Kerrane. “I mean, if one kid is distracted from the test, shouldn’t that be enough? Why are you so adamant? What is our reasoning?”
The board voted 4-1 to have students remain in their classroom, with trustee David Del Santo abstaining.