A very-focused BOE began the difficult task of cutting the 2000-2001 school budget on Tuesday evening, May 23, in light of its defeat on May 16. School Superintendent Albert Inserra offered recommended cuts that totaled about $1.3 million, and while most of the board members were willing to support these cuts immediately and vote on a revised budget, others wanted to move more slowly. Some, though, felt they could support all the suggestions with the exception of cuts in educational staff. By the meeting's late-night end, they hoped to finalize budget cuts at a June 1 BOE meeting, and tentatively schedule a public vote on the new budget for June 22.
Outgoing BOE President Dr. Roy Nelson began the meeting by congratulating the three incoming BOE members ¬ Bob Ferro, Julie Meyer, and Peter Wezenaar ¬ all of whom were present; they will assume their duties on July 1. Dr. Inserra congratulated the students Ashley Gamell, Anishka Perez, Andrew Malone, and Amanda Otte who won first place in the State (group performance division) in the National History Day competition. They will now compete at the national level. In the group documentary category, Josh Bloom and Lindsey Weinstein took second place honors, and Sam Eichner took third prize in the individual category. Also recognized were Intel International Science and Engineering Fair First-Place winner Kate Pedatella, winner of a $3,000 scholarship, and Third Place winner Shirley Cho, awarded a $1,000 scholarship. Dr. Inserra also acknowledged Schreiber High School's Elaine Labrocca as one of five finalists in the NYS Teacher of the Year award.
Before turning to the budget, the board voted unanimously to award tenure to the following administrators: Robert Bracken, Matthew Sanzone, Lynne Manouvrier, and Phillip Crivelli. The following teachers and staffers were also awarded tenure: Dr. Steven Birnbaum, Wanda Burgess, Melissa Carrion, Stefanie Cohen, Dr. Tijen Eron, Lauren Feigelson, Scott Lenz, Harriet Lorber, Peadar Maxwell, Renee McClean, Regina McLean, Jennifer Parades, Anne Piervincenzi, Virginia Ross, Phyllis Serfaty, Elizabeth Spinella, Valerie Staltare, Julie Suk, and Pamela Tirrito. Finally, tenure was awarded to the following teacher assistants: Diane Haut, Birgitt Schwalz, Wendy Balterman, and Kate Francis.
Many -- including members of the public, the administration, and the BOE -- sought the adoption of a revised budget and its presentation to the public for a vote as quickly as possible, or face the cancellation of much-needed programs like summer school. Dr Inserra pointed out that "We need a budget quickly ... without a budget, we can't have a summer program. Our kids must meet new demanding standards, and summer school will help them do this; it includes an intensive ESL program." He explained that moving quickly on the passage of a new budget was also necessary because of the pressing space problems in Weber. When school opens in September, Weber will begin with an itinerant foreign language program. Before any internal , relatively modest renovations to Weber can be authorized by the BOE however, Dr. Inserra pointed out that appropriate back-up documents were needed, and would be distributed to the BOE. He hoped to reach a consensus and present a budget "by no later than the third week in June," he said.
BOE member Richard Sussman inquired about the timetable for reopening Salem School, proposing that it be a separate proposition for the budget, not a bond issue, thereby taking advantage of State aid available before June 30. But some BOE members were opposed to this approach, wanting to formulate an overall plan instead. The idea was also criticized as being "not well thought out" enough to allocate millions.
Saying "the community spoke pretty loudly about this budget, " Dr. Inserra presented some of the recommended budget cutbacks that "tried not to hurt instruction." This included eliminating the late bus program taking 7th to 12th graders home at approximately 5:30 to 6 p.m. Most of the students ¬ who are public and private school students ¬ participate in sports. The BOE members were split on eliminating this item, which totals about $187,000.
Cutting equipment and software purchases in the area of technology would result in a savings of about $129,000, while a $95,000 reduction could be made in transportation and operation/maintenance. Additional recommendations called for cutting conference codes across the district (about $20,000)and summer workshops/courses for teachers ($30,000-50,000). But the majority of the BOE members protested when the superintendent spoke of eliminating the no-cut policy for sports teams. There were also groans from the audience when the idea of eliminating the three additional sports teams at Weber which allow full participation (at a cost of about $21,900) was mentioned. At the high school, there are more than one JV teams in a few sports, like soccer and basketball, at a cost of $24,842; these too, were suggested cuts.
Perhaps the most controversial cut recommended was the elimination of some educational positions. Because the number of sections could be reduced, ( Daly second grade decreasing from 4 classes to three, grade 5 reduced to 3 classes, and Guggenheim's fifth grade consisting of four classes) three teaching spots could be cut, at a savings of roughly $170,000. Proposed reductions at the high school would total 2.0. Also suggested were staff reductions in the clerical, custodial, and paraprofessional areas, saving "a few thousand dollars." Nineteen education assistants in kindergarten classes would have their hours cut back by one hour. These proposed cuts to educational staff were strongly opposed by some BOE members, but there was no consensus among the BOE on this issue. For example, BOE member Alan Baer said, "Before I swipe teachers and TAs away from 5 year olds, there are a lot of other things to cut." "Having kindergarten aides is very important," said BOE VP Sandy Ehrlich, "and it should not be cut." BOE member Richard Sussman was noncommital, commenting that "We need proper backup to make decisions; a lot of this we heard for the first time tonight." But BOE member Dean Nardone urged his BOE colleagues to make these difficult decisions immediately and move forward. "Nobody is happy about doing any of these cuts, " he said, "but administration has done their best to come up with these reductions."
While some BOE members, like John Zimmerman and Dean Nardone, were ready to vote on a new budget that evening, others were not prepared to do so. Mr. Zimmerman said he would "go with Dr. Inserra's recommendations." He pledged his support for the revised budget and felt it would pass. Though he, and Mr. Sussman advocated for the introduction of foreign language instruction at the elementary schools, this idea was quickly overshadowed by the urgent need for a revised budget. Others, like Mr. Sussman and Mr. Baer, were not ready to vote on a revised budget (with the recommended cuts) yet: Dr. Inserra concluded that a June 1 meeting should focus on resolving the school budget, with a tentative date of June 22 as the re-vote.
With no resolution on a new school budget, the BOE moved on to pass other agenda items, including teacher retirements/resignations. Those resigning included Martin Brown, Edna Edelstein Carol Kratenstein, Rebecca Charnow, Pauline Eigo, Joan Powner, and Abby Hirsch.They were thanked for their service, as were three individuals making gifts to the District, and those establishing a scholarship in the name of John Westergaard.
Many of the remarks from community members urged the BOE to present a new budget for a public vote as soon as possible; others asked that educational staff not be eliminated in a new budget. Ellen Fox thanked the three outgoing BOE members, Dr.Nelson, Sandy Ehrlich, and Nancy Cowles (who was traveling abroad) for their "three years of dedication and service." Her comments were followed by sustained applause from the audience, the majority of whom rose in a standing ovation. Frank Russo, though, asked that more cuts be made in the budget, saying "We have too many teachers!" Incoming BOE member Peter Wezenaar commented that the BOE has to make cuts in the budget, but believed the three teachers should be retained.