Written by Jill Nossa Friday, 30 April 2010 00:00
The Glen Cove Board of Education held a special meeting to discuss and vote on the budget for the 2010-11 school year, which after weeks of discussions and revisions was unanimously approved. Few changes were made since Superintendent Dr. Laurence W. Aronstein proposed the last draft to the board 10 days earlier, although the final budget does reflect a greater savings and lower tax levy.
Dr. Aronstein presented an overview of the budget, indicating that the one major change in the budget savings is due to an agreement with the administrators’ union to take a freeze in salary increases for next year, which amounts to a total of $80,000 in savings. Regarding the talks with the teachers’ union on similar pay freezes, Dr. Aronstein said it was a “good faith effort, but no agreement could be reached.”
This budget represents a budget-to-budget increase of 1.55 percent, and the tax levy increase amounts to 3.70 percent, down from 3.84 as proposed in the previous draft.
As reported previously, if the budget does not pass, the district will ultimately be forced to go on contingency. If that happens, the tax levy increase will be 2.04 percent, and the budget will increase by only approximately $150,000 for the next school year. This would mean more cuts in staff, athletic programs and elective courses such as AP classes.
Board President Ida McQuair said, to clarify, “What you will be voting on is 1.66 percent, that’s the difference between this budget and the contingent budget.” She then opened the floor for public comment, asking people to keep their comments to a maximum of two minutes.
Glen Cove resident Laura Abrams asked the board if there were any numbers they could put out there to the public so they can see how they will be affected by this proposed budget. Dr. Aronstein replied that the information would be in the budget newsletter; trustee Richard Tortorici then asked if perhaps a summarized version could be available, as the budget newsletter tends to be “too wordy.” Dr. Aronstein said that they cannot advocate for the passing of the budget, but can put the information out there.
Another resident asked how much of the budget was affected by the MTA Tax; Assistant to the Superintendent for Business Kevin Wurtz replied that it was about $160,000 -170,000.
A parent who has spoken up regularly in recent meetings about staff cuts asked the board, “So you are actually cutting two guidance counselors, is that correct? I feel like everything that’s been said recently has gone in one ear and out the other. You are going to ruin this district if you do this. You are not thinking about these kids, and it’s a damn shame…it didn’t make a bit of difference what we said. What I did was a waste, it’s like nobody heard us, and I am just disgusted.”
Another parent agreed, saying, “No one else is helping our kids. By taking away the guidance counselors, you are ruining the future of these kids. It’s a disgrace.”
A student who said he was a junior at the high school this year added his sentiment to the topic. “We have been working with these guidance counselors for three years, and without them, we’ll have to get to know somebody else, and we’re going to be lost. Can you please reconsider?”
Glenn Howard asked what the total dollar amount of the teachers’ salaries was out of the whole budget, and Dr. Aronstein gave a rough estimate. “So if there was a total freeze, you would probably be able to keep everyone,” Mr. Howard said. “Money is money, and if you don’t have it, you can’t spend it,” he added.
A resident asked if it was feasible to create a single team for students at the middle school to save on costs in the case of contingency, if the athletic programs are cut. Dr. Aronstein responded by saying it had been done in the past and could be considered.
Another parent said that she believes the board needs to “consider what directly affects the students, including class sizes and guidance counselors. I would rather see capital projects go than to see the staff cuts.”
Resident Zefy Christopoulos said, “I am appalled at the lack of innovation of our school board, and it is not right that at the 11th hour, parents have to come and plead to save teachers. You don’t explore these options at the 11th hour. I have been an advocate for education for 23 years, and our kids face so many more challenges today…I find it appalling that the teachers union will not agree to a salary increase freeze. I will hold all of you responsible for what will happen to the future of this district.”
A teacher and parent who has been outspoken about developing a middle school honors program expressed her concern over the lack of changes to this budget, “I thought the number was trumped up,” she said. “I bet we could do all three honors programs for much less. Ask a few of my colleagues to brainstorm ideas on how to make this happen. I am very disappointed.”
“You had a missed opportunity,” an audience member told the board. “This room was packed for many meetings with parents, teachers, students…no way will kids ask their parents to get out and vote for the budget now. The public spoke.”
Ms. McQuair responded, “We spent over one hundred hours agonizing over this budget, and it’s hurtful that some of you think we just blew over it and did not consider the kids’ best interest. To imply that we haven’t done our due diligence is upsetting.”
“I will vote for the budget,” John Maccarone said. “To those that say they won’t vote for this budget- even more teachers would be cut. I don’t know why we’re different than everyone else but, things could be a helluva lot worse.”
A mother of a Glen Cove High School senior said, “My son is going to Johns Hopkins in the fall; I am very proud of him and what the school has done for him. Do not cut the AP programs; without those courses, he would not have been accepted. Please continue to do a good job.”
Glen Cove business owner Rick Smith said, “I know how hard you’ve worked but I can’t say you worked smart…there’s a difference between what you want and what you need, and repairing curbs is not as important to the schools as teachers or guidance counselors. Look at other ways to save money, get rid of the PR firm. There are things that could’ve been done. Now, it’s a losing combo – but I think you can still fix it.”
A resident said, “Schools are nothing without teachers and guidance counselors. You cannot compare teachers with dump trucks and brick re-pointing. I know you keep hearing the word ‘guidance’ but you are not listening and this disappoints me. It’s easy to do, but try not to lose sight of what’s really important- the kids and the people who directly impact them.”
Ms. McQuair clarified that while there are two guidance counselors being cut, only one is from the high school and the other is from the middle school. She said the ratio of students to guidance counselors was low and by making the cuts, the ratio is more in line with other districts.
“We are not happy about the cuts, and not happy with this budget, but we have always put our students first. Please trust that we have done our best,” she said. “The consequence of not supporting the budget…I don’t even want to think about it.”