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POB Board of Ed Wraps Up Budget Discussions

Approves Addition of Elementary Health Teacher and Additional Fifth-Grade Teacher to Budget, But Concerns Remain Over Adding Guidance Counselor

The evening of Monday, April 4 was an eventful one for the Plainview-Old Bethpage School District; not only did it include a Board of Education Recognition Ceremony, featuring the announcement of the 2011 Valedictorian and Salutatorian, but the board held their last major budget discussion of the season as well. The budget discussion featured many in-depth and, at times, philosophical discussions between board members about the merit of various positions, as the board made difficult decisions concerning which programs to maintain and which to cut for the following year.

Before delving into either the awards or the budget, board members reported on recent happenings; Trustee Emily Schulman discussed a recent cyberbullying conference, while several board members spoke of their positive experiences at the “Celebrations of Diversity” event at Plainview-Old Bethpage Middle School, a cross-cultural event featuring the district’s ESL families. Trustee Angel Cepeda noted that, despite its austerity, he was glad that the state had managed to pass an on-time budget this year.

During the awards ceremony, Andrew Ren was named 2011 Valedictorian, while Ari B. Turkiewicz was named 2011 Salutatorian. JFK High School Principal James Murray called Ren “a true Renaissance man,” and explained that the Valedictorian had service and leadership roles in student government, business, science research, athletics, and National Honor Society, as well as many other unusual skills. Ren plans to study business at Columbia University next year.

Turkiewicz is president of the Mathaletes, a finalist in the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium at Stony Brook University, a finalist in I-SWEEEP (International Sustainable World Energy, Engineering and Environment Project), treasurer of “Increase the Peace,” a member of several academic honor societies, and tutors students in math and science. He plans to pursue a career in Chemical Engineering in college.

While space constraints prevent the names of all the students who were honored at the ceremony from being printed in the Plainview-Old Bethpage Herald, congratulations go out to the many students- from the kindergartners to the high school seniors- who were recognized for their many achievements in academics, art, science, math, and athletics that evening.

After the awards, Talia, student council representative, gave the board her regular report on all the news from the high school. She reported on Junior Night on March 22, a college preparation event; Battle of the Bands on March 25 where the Juniors triumphed; various honor society inductions on March 31, and the SADD Sleepover on April 1. Upcoming events include “Café Kennedy” at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 8, a music and entertainment event at the high school, and an orchestra concert at 7:30 on Wednesday, April 13.

The budget discussions began with a review of which changes to the budget had been passed at the previous meeting (including funding for an ASL teacher, the Enrichment for All element, and more fuel oil), and a review of the district’s current capital projects with Assistant Superintendent for Business Ryan Ruf and Director of School Facilities and Operations II Buildings and Grounds Kim Parahus. While the capital reserve fund, which will pay for most of the planned projects- which include fire alarm upgrades, masonry reconstruction, skylight replacement, and district-wide IP telephony- was approved in May 2010, the district will need the community to vote in favor of the project list in order to move forward.

“The beauty of this is, we’re paying for the work out of a savings account, as opposed to borrowing money,” said Ruf. “Now is the time to get this money into some of our facilities.”

While some changes to the budget, such as a $77,984 reduction due to anticipation of a Nassau County drug grant covering the cost of a social worker position, were quickly passed with little comment, several changes led to long discussions between the board members as they tried to figure out how best to stretch limited funds. Two of the more substantial decisions of the evening were whether or not to add another guidance counselor at the high school (which would cost $104,871) and whether or not to add another fifth-grade teacher at POB Middle School (for a cost of $96,895) in order to keep class sizes down.

Several board members expressed difficulty knowing how to approach the guidance issue, because, while adding another guidance counselor has been part of the board’s plan for a long time, a difficult budget year- with the prospect of next year being even tougher- may not be a good time to commit to a multi-year position. Trustee Ginger Lieberman asked if it was possible to use one of the district’s six breakage positions to hire the guidance counselor, however Superintendent Gerard Dempsey recommended against doing so, saying that if the board wanted to add the guidance position, they should commit to it as a multi-year plan- not use a breakage position as a stop-gap measure.

Principal Murray acknowledged that it was difficult to ask for staff additions in such a difficult time, but said that he felt that the guidance counselors were currently overworked, and the children were missing out as a result. “Not a day goes by that we’re not asking our counselors to step out of the box, and reach out to a child in need,” said Murray. “The time is never going to be good…you know, when is it going to get better?...I think if we have the opportunity right now to do it, I think that we should.” Several attendees applauded Murray’s comments.

The addition was eventually voted down, but due to concerns from the community, members of the board said they would try to find funding for the guidance counselor position if at all possible.

However, the board did pass the addition of the fifth-grade teacher; while the possibility of using a breakage position for this area was discussed (since, as an enrollment-based change, it would be more appropriate than attempting to do so with the guidance position), currently the funds for that position are included in the budget, not as breakage.

Another important budget change was the re-introduction of the elementary health position ($94,196) to the budget. While the initial draft of the budget removed this position, with the implication being that classroom teachers would then become responsible for teaching health curriculum to their classes, several trustees felt it was far preferable to have licensed health teachers teaching health. “I think if we take our wellness policy seriously- and I believe that we all do- I think we need to give it [health] the attention it deserves,” said Trustee Evy Rothman.

Other trustees disagreed, stating that they trusted the classroom teachers to deliver the material, and that the program may actually be more effective if administered by the classroom teacher due to the bond between students and their regular teachers, as opposed to an “outside” teacher who visits infrequently. The reintroduction of the position was eventually passed 4-3.

The board also approved an additional $20,000 for customizable report cards, and a .2 music position; the original proposal of a .4 music position was voted down.

Public participation was handled differently at this meeting; there were two participation segments: one before the board discussed and voted on budget changes, and one after the votes. During the first public participation segment, several parents encouraged the board to approve the addition of another fifth-grade teacher; after the change was approved, more parents thanked the board for keeping their children’s class sizes down. In contrast, after the addition of another guidance counselor was rejected, several speakers said they supported the addition of another guidance counselor, and implored the board to find a way to add the position.

Several speakers were also concerned about the $10 fee for field trip transportation that parents will likely start paying next year. Resident Richard Siegelman reiterated his concern from a previous meeting that students on academic trips should not have to pay field trip transportation cost if their peers on the athletic teams do not have to pay them for athletic trips; state law dictates that the costs of all school sports transportation must be funded by the district.

Also in regard to field trip costs, Tracy Gorman asked if the new fee for field trip transportation would allow the children more time on their trips as opposed to on the bus, which she seemed to feel was inadequate, and Dempsey replied that the amount of time spent on field trips would not be affected.

Plainview Council of Teachers President Morton Rosenfeld asked the board to reconsider adding to the budget the position of a .5 early-intervention social worker, which had been voted down due to the fact that it was ARRA-funded, thus had always been intended as a temporary position. Rosenfeld noted that no one seemed to doubt the efficacy of the position, just its funding, and challenged the board to find the $40,899 it would take to cover that position from elsewhere in the budget.

The 2011-2012 budget was voted upon at a special meeting on Thursday, April 7; coverage of that meeting will appear next week.