The New Hyde Park-Garden City Park Board of Education held its first input session for the 2013-14 school budget Monday night at the Garden City Park School prior to its regular meeting, receiving the overarching message again not to cut enrichment programs for students.
“I realize the task in preparing this year’s budget will be the most difficult process the board has probably faced,” said Lisa Ugolini, a Manor Oaks parent, asking the board to maintain programs considered “non-essential,” singling out music, library services, computer labs, science lab and art.
“Without library and computer lab programs, students will not understand how to conduct research in how to understand media. Whether we like it or not, media is going to be included in our children’s curriculum more consistently, especially as our children advance in grade.”
She also asked the board to maintain its staff and classroom sizes.
“I still do think it’s extremely important to continue monitoring class sizes while developing the budget,” she said. “It is essential that class sizes be looked at carefully, particularly in the younger grades; in grades K through three, the children need individualized instruction with the common core standards challenging the children as well as the teachers, both parties will be held to a very high standard. Though I realize our budget is going to be tighter than ever, smaller class sizes are extremely important to our children, especially when expectations have been set so high.”
Each of the parents who spoke was from the Manor Oaks School, including Jennifer DeRocchis, who also asked the board to maintain the music, art and Odyssey programs.
“I realize the challenges that you face in formulating a budget that is attainable,” she said. “It’s because of our educators and programs that the performance of our district is ranked up there in New York State.”
However, the issue of school security in the wake of the shootings at the Connecticut elementary school also weighed heavily on her mind.
“Newtown had the same security procedures that we do. The question is, what can we do differently? How can we improve the security in our schools?” she said, asking about obtaining advisement from Third Precinct and suggesting intercom systems, panic buttons and security guards could be used in classrooms and the buildings.
“There would be some monetary cost to this,” she said. “We are all reacting to what has happened in Newtown, but Newtown is not this first time that this has happened. I understand that cost is a big factor, but our children are our most valuable asset.”
Board trustee David DelSanto, who works in the security field, noted an impending meeting of the school district’s safety and security committee on January 9.
“I think we should convene that safety and security meeting as soon as possible and address some of the concerns that the folks have in the community,” he said. “I think that is something that we need to get in front of and let’s get that scheduled as soon as possible.”
Despite the additional costs in a variety of fields, including teacher and employee retirement systems, healthcare and a desire for more security post-Newtown, the district is still tied to the state-imposed 2-percent tax cap which prevents it from raising taxes beyond a certain point with the exception of obtaining a supermajority of 60 percent or more at the polls.
“I have followed the school budget process for a number of years now and understand that with each successive year, the process has become more and more challenging,” said Kathy Wong, a past Manor Oaks PTA co-president.
Wong expressed her shared frustration with teacher and employee retirement systems rates, unfunded mandates and tax certiorari which “have just eaten away at our funds... at what we currently have. We have currently no after school programs or clubs, no summer music or academic programs nothing extracurricular. Instead today we are faced with the possibility that we may lose programs and our staff, which is not something any parent wants to see.”
She too asked the board not to cut the Odyssey program or any of the music programs which have led to students attending NYSSMA festivals and encouraged families to move into the district to take advantage of the programs.
“I know the task ahead is beyond daunting as you try to craft a budget that is fiscally responsible that does not drive up our taxes and also preserves programs and staff,” she said. “But please, I ask you to save these programs and think about what our schools would look like without them.”
Resident Kiernan Griffin, an English teacher, also asked the board to be mindful of class sizes in light of the upcoming teacher assessments which are being imposed by the state.
“As you look to class sizes, please be mindful of the impact where we’re going in terms of teacher evaluations,” he said. “We don’t know where it’s going. Who knows? We’re just finding out, getting sample math questions from the state. It’s just challenging when class sizes are 26, 27 and 28. It’s a wish, it’s unlikely that that class size will drop from third to fourth grade; I would hope for the future classes across the district, those K, one, two and three classes remain as workable as possible.”
The next budget input session will be held on Monday, February 11 at the Hillside Grade School at 7:30 p.m.