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Parents Speak Out On Budget Reality

Thursday’s Board of Education meeting was anything but sleepy as parents expressed their concerns about expected cuts to the district’s music program and the reorganization of athletics.

“My family was very distressed to learn that as part of the passed budget the fourth-grade music program for the elementary schools were scrapped,” said concerned Manhasset resident Lisa Zornberg, mother of 7th grader Aden Horowitz.  “Our distress further grew when we learned that the jazz band had been cut and the chamber choir had been cut.”

According to Zornberg, restoring the jazz band and choir for the upcoming school year will cost $10,000.  These numbers were provided to her by school district.

“We are going to look at all these programs in their entirety,” said Superintendent Charles Cardillo. “We will work through these issues on a one-by-one basis.” But the solution is not so simple.  As the school district prepares budgets in out years, its ability to restore these programs will continue to face challenges with relation to the 2% tax cap.  It appears the seas remain uncharted.

Discussions regarding the athletic programs were not far behind.  “I’m here to talk about the athletic programs because I know it’s another hot-button issue,” exclaimed Chris Allen.  A chuckle in the audience followed, an acknowledgement that sports are big in Manhasset. “There are a lot of sports-minded families in this town,” said Allen. “It’s sad that some children will not be able to play their sport of choice because we lost the combo teams.”

Athletics poses a more difficult challenge for the district, explained Cardillo.  “Unlike our 5th grade program and 6th grade [music] program where we have internal controls, in athletics we have to work with Section VIII,” explained Cardillo.  Section VIII falls under the Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) and coordinates all public secondary school interscholastic athletic contests that take place in Nassau, according to the BOCES website.

“They [BOCES] establish a scheduling matrix for the teams that are in place across the state,” said Cardillo.  

But more importantly, Cardillo was quick to point out that restoring many of these programs (sports, field trips, music) will place pressure on the school’s administration,  a chilling reminder of the district’s contentious budget battle this past spring.  Parents, however, seemed prepared to galvanize the community to raise the necessary funds to support these programs.

“We have a lot of jewels across our programs,” said Regina Rule, school board president. “I hope we can do a laser-like focus for everything that we do well and start to shift the conversation to remembering what is really great about this district.”

Program cuts to the arts and athletics wasn’t the only issue on parent’s minds.

“Parents are feeling helpless about ineffective teachers,” according to Maureen Lavin. “They are out of their minds that nothing can be done.” Administrators schedule planned and unplanned visits to classrooms to evaluate teacher performance. That’s an unproductive method of assessing teachers, since, according to Lavin, many teachers seem to game the system: “Every child that I have spoken to, and every parent that I have spoken to, says that their children say that when an administrator walks into a room the teacher changes completely.”

At one surprise visit, as it was explained to Lavin, “the teacher taught the same lesson as the day before.”   

 Cardillo took exception to Lavin’s remarks and the implication that the district isn’t doing enough.  States, in order to receive federal Race to the Top and state education aid, are required to adopt Annual Professional Performance Reviews (APPRs), for teachers and principals, according to the New York State Education Department.  “Our teachers have not been an impediment to our agreement with regard to APPR,” Cardillo said.  “We do a significant amount of observations.”  

Lavin, however, seemed unconvinced. “It’s not the reality that the administrator is seeing,” she claims.

“I disagree, and my administrative colleagues would be offended in hearing this,” Cardillo shot back. “To claim that is the reality is unfair and I’m not going to accept it.” Cardillo deferred the discussion to a later date when a more formal presentation could be made.