As promised, following is part two of the discussion at the BOE's Town Hall forum held on Jan. 27
Next to address the board was former BOE member Alan Baer who suggested some "imaginative discussions with the teachers." He would like to see keeping the quality of education the same with lower class sizes.
An email was read that raised the matter of the current teachers' contract negotiations. (Their contract expires in June of this year.) It read "In this period of uncertain economic times for many families, are we looking to ask more of our teachers during contract negotiations to help with savings on the budget?" The board president replied that board members were not allowed to discuss these negotiations.
Noting that the world has "gone global," the next speaker wants to see foreign languages like Chinese and Russian added to the curriculum. He advised that in his business, the jobs of those who are fluent in Chinese and Spanish are not on the chopping block. He would also like to see foreign languages introduced into the elementary school curriculum in the third or fourth grade.
A parent spoke saying that the main consideration for her and her husband buying a house was to find a community that was child-centered and "all about the children." She believes she has found that in Port and even though she and her husband are both working very hard to support these values, she feels it's well worth it.
When she praised the school district community for the fine work they do for the academic and emotional needs of the students, many in the audience applauded her.
One speaker asked the board to analyze what the various expenditures will provide to students and not just cut to fixed numbers. She emphasized that you cannot assess cuts in dollar amounts only. She lamented the fact that National History Day was cut out of last year's budget.
But, another taxpayer emailed the district writing that with so many people out of work in Port the district must sacrifice and increase class size and cut choices for students.
Former district social worker Susan Bagnini spoke about the value of the pre-kindergarten program. She said it services about 80 students, or 20 percent of the incoming class. These youngsters typically come from low-income and non-English speaking homes. At risk students are also included in this program. She has seen first-hand the benefits of this program, which also includes working closely with the parents to help them navigate the school system.
Stan Ronell asked the board to consider itself "a business" and to develop a 3 to 5-year plan. Board member Dr. Roy Nelson pointed out that when he was on the board in 1999 a 5-year plan had been developed. He said that it elicited a "violent disagreement" adding that the plan was "offensive...and dropped."
Mr. Greenstein added, "Just because there isn't a formal plan, it doesn't mean that we're not planning."
A professional statistician told the audience that some statistics are "questionable," explaining that statistics can be found to fit most arguments. She said that short-term solutions can have long-term consequences. Speaking to the question of teachers' salaries, which some consider too high, she said the without good pay or with large class sizes a district cannot attract topnotch teachers.
One gentleman advised that his child's teacher had not been recommended for tenure last year and asked why the district did not seek input from parents, as he thought she was a good teacher. Dr. Nelson informed him that parent input is considered in tenure decisions and they can forward this to the board and the administrators.
Another speaker who feels that the NYSSBA (New York State School Board Association) is an important organization to belong to, asked why the board dropped out of it last year. Mr. Greenstein replied that it was "budgetary decision." Mr. Seiden commented that he would rather put the $17,000 the district was spending for membership for NYSSBA into the classroom.
Former district social worker Sue Bagnini spoke about the importance of the pre-kindergarten program. She reported that it services about 80 students a year, many of whom come from low-income and non-English speaking homes. Children who are considered at risk are also included. She advised that the teacher and other professionals work with the parents also so that they can help their children at home and also learn what kind of questions to ask the professionals.
One person asked how community members can pitch in to save money for the district (i.e. proctoring an exam). Mr. Greenstein responded that there are stiff regulations on who can be in classrooms at different times.
The matter of tutoring within the district was raised by Audrey Weil. She reported that many high-performing students are tutored. As of now, tutoring does not have to be disclosed to officials in the district. Ms. Weil pointed out that this non-disclosure policy makes it difficult for the educators to accurately determine if the instruction is adequate.
Ms. Weil pointed out also that with a cost of $100 to $120/hour for tutoring, many students are shut out of this extra individual help and feels it can lead to a two-tiered education in the system.
She would like to see the district's policy on tutoring reviewed.
One taxpayer emailed the district writing that with so many people out of work in Port the district must sacrifice and increase class size and cut choices for students.
Retired Port teacher Elaine Berman advised the board that she and others were going to Albany to lobby our legislators and plan to also contact U.S. Congressman Gary Ackerman. She is "hopeful that monies will be forthcoming," and asked the board not to slash anything until "we know how much money will be coming in."
Student representative Stephen Nash asked the board to consider student input believing that it would be interesting and useful.