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Teacher Cuts Coming?

Administrators for the Massapequa School District finally unveiled the proposed 2013-2014 budget and, if adopted, it is bad news for Massapequa teachers. The proposed budget calls for the elimination of 35 teacher positions, amongst other cuts. A large crowd, comprised of many Massapequa teachers, filled the auditorium of Massapequa High School and learned the grim news at the latest school board meeting and budget presentation.

Deputy Superintendent Alan Adcock had been warning that the district faced a $5.9 million shortfall, due in large part, to increasing pension costs and the loss of High Tax Aid from New York State. According to Adcock, next year’s student enrollment will continue a pattern of decline in students. Although reducing teachers will significantly reduce the potential shortfall, Adcock said that the cuts are necessary regardless of the budget because of the enrollment situation. According to the deputy superintendent, Massapequa’s enrollment in 2005 was 8,376 with next year’s enrollment projected to be 7,450. The drop between the current school year and next is expected to be between 200 and 300 students, based on next year’s kindergarten enrollment.

“If the tax cap wasn’t in place, the recommendations would be the same because of the enrollment,” Adcock told the board. However, members of the board seemed skeptical.

“I’m not going to vote to lay off one teacher until I have a breakdown,” remarked board member Gary Bennett. “I need to have the particulars. I don’t have them.” Bennett also said that he wanted to meet with chairpersons in the district to determine if the proposed cuts are indeed unnecessary. He also said that he felt Massapequa teachers had done an excellent job and that he was strongly against losing any of them and he suggested having an executive session with the teachers’ union to determine if some of the positions could be saved. Bennett’s comments were met with a round of applause.

Trustee Jane Ryan put the blame on Albany and a lack of state funding, as well as unfunded mandates coming from the state. She called it “unconscionable” that the state put a tax cap in place that is forcing districts to make difficult cuts.

“We just got hit with a hurricane - and we get hit with a $1.4 million reduction in high tax aid,” she said. “Is that right? No it’s not right.”

According to Adcock, the reduction in teachers will save the district $2.8 million. Other cutbacks include the reduction of kindergarten support specialists, a facilities grounds position, two clerical positions, five teacher assistant positions, and five monitor positions. The budget also calls for a reduction in the number of coordinating chairpersons at a savings of $62,000, but one board member questioned the lack of administrative reductions.

“Why have we put the burden on the teachers and not the administration?” asked Joe LaBella. “Why are we laying off 10 percent of the teachers and we’re not equally doing that across the board?” Loud applause from the audience followed.

Superintendent Charles Sulc responded that the administrative staff has been restructured during the last few years. He also said that state requirements have also put a burden on administrators.

“The unfounded mandate of APPR (the new teacher evaluation system) has doubled the workload of administrators,” said Sulc.

LaBella also questioned the claim that the reduction in enrollment is driving the elimination of teaching positions.

“So 200 people warrants a 35 teacher reduction?” he asked, which was again met loud applause.

Sulc responded that a variety of reasons are behind it, including that class size tends to increase, as students get older. He also said that class size will only be going up about slightly less than half a student per class, and further said that Massapequa’s class sizes would still be “very attractive.” When pressed by LaBella, Sulc further spoke of a study, which found that lower class sizes do not produce better student results unless class sizes are reduced to about 10-12 students per class.

“I’m the last person who would want to hurt people but we also have class size guidelines,” said Sulc.

In addition to the teacher layoffs, other cutbacks include the elimination of buses after 5 p.m. except for those buses transporting students attending private schools, a reduction in field trips, elimination of 9th grade junior varsity teams, reduced printing of the school district’s newsletter, elimination of the hybrid seventh and eighth grade baseball team, elimination of the Caumsett field trip, elimination of K-8 summer school, elimination of after school intramural programs and reduced funding of the ice hockey team.