At the Port Washington Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, July 5, the board reorganized, unanimously electing Robert Seiden as president and Mark Marcellus as vice president for the 2005-06 school year. In addition, the board adopted a contingency budget.
Seiden, the only candidate for president, said he wants to lead the board of education through a "new era in Port Washington." He stressed the need for community solidarity.
"It is important to work together," he said. "We must come together for the sake of the school system and the town. We must recognize a truth: The 'no' voters are our neighbors. The enemy is mediocrity."
Additionally, Seiden, who has previously said the board must use creative ways to influence voters, suggested that the board's positions be disseminated by methods such as live broadcasts on public-access television, streaming Internet videos, town hall meetings and newsletters.
"We hear you, and we will always try to do the right thing in balancing competing interests," Seiden concluded.
Community comments had one overriding theme: the increases in the kindergarten class sizes that were proposed at the previous meeting. These proposed increases would bring the number of children in kindergarten classes to the mid- to high 20s.
"I moved to Port because of its school district," said Marjy Fisher, a mother of three. "I am shocked and outraged with the 26, 27, 28 person [kindergarten] classes. Children should start out with the attention they need."
Although much of the focus was on the kindergarten cuts, Ellen Fox, the mother of a high school student, asked the board to avoid drastic cuts in high school extracurricular activities because high school students need these activities to get into competitive colleges. County Legislator Craig Johnson's comments were enthusiastically received. "I offer my services in going forward," Johnson said. Cuts in state aid from 21 percent in past years to 5 percent this year are "deplorable."
"We must force assembly members to step up," he said. "What we need to do is to work together and call upon Albany to stop unfunded mandates." In response to the great outcry about kindergarten class sizes, Superintendent Geoffrey N. Gordon proposed three ways to restore kindergarten, first-grade and fifth-grade class sizes to the status quo. Although he said that he and the board dislike each of these options, he maintained that they are a necessary step to meet the financial requirements of the contingency budget, which are set by the state.
The first option would be to maintain the class-size increases in the Salem, Daly and Sousa kindergarten, Manorhaven first-grade and Guggenheim fifth-grade classes. This would result in class numbers in the mid- to high 20s.
The second option is to cut 2.3 social workers. This would return class sizes to between 16 and 19 children per class for the previously mentioned grades; however, the duties and responsibilities of the social workers would then be put on guidance counselors and psychologists. "The at-risk kids need a voice," Fox said in opposing this idea. "[The guidance counselors and psychologists] would be unable to fulfill the responsibilities of the social workers."
Finally, a third option would eliminate one special-education teacher, 0.5 physical education teachers from both Weber and Schreiber, and special-education and physical-education class sizes, Gordon labeled the third option as "the most viable." The cost of facility use by community groups and the public was another topic of interest. "Rather than penalize our community, the track and tennis courts will be open through July and August," Gordon said.
Schreiber principal Jay Lewis reported that high school class sizes are "clearly moving up into the mid-20s." Because some specialized and support classes have significantly smaller sizes, the overall average class size remains relatively low. However, the core subject classes are "creeping into the upper 20s," which will have a "detrimental effect," Lewis said.
Although the contingency budget was adopted, obstacles remain for the board. Facility costs, class sizes and extracurricular losses will affect the community in the coming months.