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Moms Talk: How The Upcoming School Budget May Affect Your Child

Join us for a discussion from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.

About 250 parents gathered Tuesday evening at the auditorium. They were there to discuss the looming 2011 - 2012 budget and possible school budget cuts in Port Washington at the Board of Education meeting. Mothers and fathers listened carefully as School Board Member Sandy Ehrlich spoke of  “the role of the parent as an advocate for your child and their education." If you missed Ehrlich's speech, you can catch some of it on the video clip posted with this article. 

No doubt, parents must advocate for their children in all arenas but on the table this week is the area of education. In New York State, children are constitutionally entitled to a “Free and Public education.” Yet as we all well know, despite the term “Free,” the money has to come from somewhere. And in this cash-strapped economic climate, the last thing anyone wants to hear is cuts to our children’s education’s budget and the prospect of even higher property taxes.

Superintendent Dr. Geoffrey Gordon walked the very crowded room through the BOE’s presentation on the state of the district’s impending budget cuts. The board made it very clear that they are just as unhappy and perturbed as the parents are about seeing any cuts made to the budget. Still, the State and Federal government are revoking to what amounts to about $3 million in aid, meaning our school district must determine where to make up the difference and who gets affected.

Many parents spoke at the meeting, saying that they live and moved to Port Washington because of the desirable Port school district. Education is a core component of our community and society at large. It is a concern on local, county, state and federal levels.  One aspect of our community affects the rest. If Port’s school district slips in ranks, our property values slip as well. Fewer people coming to Port means less businesses in Port and down go the dominoes.

The community and the School Board must work together to resolve this issue and band together in some respects to give backlash on the mandates coming from the State and Federal level. Taking the hatchet to any area in the school budget has its ramifications. For a fiscally responsible school district, this is a very daunting and unwelcome task.

We all want what is best for our children and it’s hard to peel our focus away from our child’s immediate needs. Personally, with a child who will be entering kindergarten next year, my immediate concern is whether the district will cut the
kindergarten program from a full day to a half day.

Once upon a time, Port did offer a half-day kindergarten class and it’s hard to imagine regressing instead of progressing forward. What would a half-day kindergarten class mean to our children, the families of those children and our community’s future?  What is the domino effect for the entering kindergarten students as far as their academic track?

If you cut kindergarten the incoming and future classes and their families suffer. If you cut art programs middle and high school kids suffer. If you cut PEP and AP classes our community’s gifted and brightest suffer. If you cut pensions, teachers suffer. If you increase class sizes, teachers and other jobs are lost and all suffer. If you cut BOCES, students pursuing a music and art or vocational track suffer. If you cut guidance counselors and social workers, the social and emotional well being of the students suffer.

The BOE is looking for ways to save money, including reducing costs associated with energy and transportation, but it’s not enough. There seem to be few good options.

"Education costs money, but then so does ignorance."  -- Sir Claus Moser

So what should go? Your kid’s programs or mine? Must we all compromise? Should we accept compromise? Are we powerless?

The prospect of budget cuts lay a heavy burden atop a parent’s lap. Most parents trust that our educators, school administrators and representatives will do their jobs and what is best for our children. However, the BOE strongly urged parents not to sit back as parents are still ultimately responsible to advocate.  

How do we effectively advocate for our children?

First step the BOE members said “show up to meetings” and “talk to us."

The next BOE meeting on this topic is March 8. There is a protest rally being organized for March 18 in New York State Assemblyman’s Shelly Silver’s office, to include mandate relief within the legislation with a property tax cap so that districts aren’t gutted. The BOE welcomes suggestions to balance the budget and the general email address is: BOE@portnet.k12.ny.us

The proposed budget and other information can be found at the BOE website http://www.portnet.k12.ny.us/portnet/.

Cynthia Litman February 16, 2011 at 07:50 PM
My friend Lisa Grossman sent me this message to share: "Cynthia - Last night's BOE meeting was eye opening. I was one of those that arrived early so I received a copy of the budget. Almost the entire budget goes to employees and really, the cuts have to begin there. That does not mean we need to cut teachers but we need to unite with other districts to begin to reduce the benefits. There are no firms left in the private sector that completely pay for health and dental. Let the teachers contribute - we can begin with a small contribution this year and it would be an incredible savings. I believe the pension is out of our control...."
Cynthia Litman February 16, 2011 at 07:51 PM
Lisa continues.... "Also, most of the discussion revolved around cutting programs instead of reducing them. That should be their next step - we can look into sharing resources between elementary schools. How much would be saved if one school had a guidance counselor every morning and another had the same counselor in the afternoon? We pay $2.5 million for the guidance counselors and their expenses. Could we cut that by 1/3 Instead of considering cutting all librarians, what about considering having a librarian half day at each school? It is not ideal but the service is then still available to the students. Another thought - raising money. My friend's school district in Livingston, NJ caters food in & the parents serve the food. Each parent volunteers 1-3 school days during the year, depending upon their availability. Their kitchen has been closed for years and the school makes money. There are many ways to save that are outside the box. Its time to examine each line item & see what we can do.."
Cari Gatto Huszar February 16, 2011 at 08:40 PM
I found a few links on how other districts are handling the issue. I couldn't find anything from Roslyn or Manhasset, not even on BOE agendas. http://www.scarsdale10583.com/201101311380/schools/scarsdale-forum-divided-on-school-finances.html http://www.antonnews.com/syossetjerichotribune/news/13513-can-school-districts-work-together-for-lower-salaries.html
Susan Sturman February 17, 2011 at 04:05 PM
As a former BOE member I can share that the BOE and administration were in the lead in NY State in the last round of contract negotiations on benefits and teacher contributions to their benefit plans. Our teachers and other employees contribute more to their plans than most other teachers. The essential areas that need to be changed can't be changed locally, as they are governed by the State laws concerning contract negotiations, the Taylor Laws. Get involved with, watch, and support the work of the Legislative Task Force, which is charged with researching these and other legislative issues and providing advice to the Board on actions. Join the march. Take care of where your vote goes. It's all well and good to vote for politicians who say that they want to rein in spending, but you're going to have to accept the cuts in services that will be required.
Jennifer Wilson-Pines February 17, 2011 at 05:14 PM
There is an excess of adminstrators. Asst principal for every grade??? Plus their support staff. My husband grew up here. Baby boom, same # of kids in sytem then, 1 principal, one asst principal per school. Hard stuff - are you willing to trade class size to keep K full day??? Or trade in class size in the upper grades? Unless Bloomberg succeeds in breaking the States last in/first out rule, that means the youngest teachers will all go. Reality is that the while SD budget has many mandated requirments like the pension, it's also bloated. It's almost doubled from 75M when we moved here in 95, to 135M now. Waaay more than the rate of inflation. And out of touch, beause when everyone else in the country saw their salary shrink, PW BOE kept handing out raises above cost of living. A deferred raise is still a raise. This district has many wonderful teachers and programs, but the budget has been produced in lala land for decades. That flapping sound is chickens coming home to roost. I'm sorry for the current board members, as it looks like they are finally going to have to make the really tough decisions that have been deferred again and again, but if they do it will make this district leaner, not as in emaciated, but as in healthy. And in order for that to happen, as parents, we're going to have to let go of some stuff. If we fight every cut, it will all go down in flames. If we demand cuts to the fat and keep on target, maybe it will be better in the end.
Cynthia Litman February 17, 2011 at 09:41 PM
The BOE budget committee meets tomorrow morning and is open. I personally would like to know more about the legislative task force as well.
Sandy Jo Becker Hyman February 20, 2011 at 03:51 PM
If they are recorded, can the recordings be made available on a regular basis on portnet? For that matter, they could probably set up a video feed on portnet.
Sandy Jo Becker Hyman February 20, 2011 at 03:55 PM
And another ripple affect of not having a full-day K program is the impact on the family--a mother working part-time during those school hours makes more money for the family, or has to pay a caretaker for fewer hours, thus leaving more money available for that family to spend in town, thus improving the overall town economy.
Sandy Jo Becker Hyman February 20, 2011 at 03:59 PM
I agree. There are so many examples in all grades of 'teaching to the test' instead of following a robust curriculum that could go beyond those boundaries and also allow each teacher to concentrate more on teaching to each student's learning style, which, in turn, might allow more mainstreaming of those whose needs are on the fringes of what the regular classroom can accommodate.
Sandy Jo Becker Hyman February 20, 2011 at 04:07 PM
Sandy is right. You must always be an advocate for your child and, at the same time, teach your child to be an advocate for him/herself. The "system" is just like any other large entity--it has to deal with the "masses" and tends toward the "middle" which can become the lowest common denominator. The reason you moved here was because the parents in this community (or at least a lot of them) have always been very involved with the schools and the BOE, and therefore, the school system has maintained a reputation. But that reputation is as a result of a lot of hard work and a relatively informed and active parent community.
Sandy Jo Becker Hyman February 20, 2011 at 04:24 PM
Bob makes a good point. While we do need buses for the younger children, growing up in Queens, I walked a half mile to a city bus stop, then used a special student bus pass to get to junior high and high school. (And sometimes I just walked all the way to school, along with a number of other kids.) And this would help in two ways. Apparently, the MTA is looking at either privatizing or cutting bus service on our N23 bus line here in Port. Part of the reasoning is that there is not enough ridership and it's not bringing in enough money. So if the kids are riding the buses, not only are we not spending money on busing these kids to school, but they would be increasing the ridership on the MTA buses as well. The other advantage this could have is teaching kids to use public transportation more. This is not only an important life skill but also an important factor in helping our environment.
Sandy Jo Becker Hyman February 20, 2011 at 04:29 PM
And, once you "cut" a program completely, it's very hard to get it back.
Sandy Jo Becker Hyman February 20, 2011 at 04:40 PM
As a parent with a child at Schreiber and 2 older ones who went through the system, I cannot tell you how many times having that AP (Assistant Principal) who actually knew my child was a blessing. I went to a high school with more than 5,000 kids in Queens, and I didn't know who the AP was and that person did not know anything about me. There are situations when that dedicated AP at Schreiber has been able to intervene, knowing the specific child, when something out of the ordinary came up, and keep an otherwise well-intentioned and good child from being wrongly disciplined.
Jennifer Wilson-Pines February 21, 2011 at 11:40 AM
If it's choice between classroom teacher and Asst Principal - and clearly something and some one will have to go - I vote for the AP.
Dolores Kazanjian O'Brien February 21, 2011 at 09:07 PM
Jennifer, you are absolutely right that our school district is top heavy with administration. I am not a "mom," but I am a taxpayer, an educator, and a consultant to educational organizations, and I just felt I had to weigh in on this.
jane February 21, 2011 at 10:00 PM
The Sayville SD has sent out a list of about 30 items and asked its residents to weigh on what should be cut or not. I am a taxpayer, employed in private industry and a parent in the district. I believe that teachers should pay more towards their health and other insurance. I believe that the state should pass legislation ending "LIFO." I don't have any right to keep my job just because I've been there 20 years, why should teachers? I think class sizes can be raised without undue adverse consequences in many areas. Science lab classes should be kept small for safety purposes. Honors classes can be larger because they are more homogenous (my children are in honors classes so I am not picking on an area which would not impact my family). I attended a large public city HS and my honors classes routinely had 40+ kids in them, we learned and all went to college. Gym classes were over 100 students with one teacher and a couple of "Leaders" (of course they were not co-ed in those days). I also think that one administrator for 2 grades at the HS is probably enough. The job of monitoring security could probably be performed by a retired cop for a lot less money. Also, do we really need as many sports teams as we have? My last suggestion is that bus routes be consolidated on the late bus - it might take a little longer for some kids to get home, but we could probably get by with half as many buses.
Cynthia Litman February 22, 2011 at 03:55 AM
Very glad you did Dolores!! This issue's ripple effects us all!
Cynthia Litman February 22, 2011 at 03:58 AM
Very insightful points and good to know about the Sayville measures. Many parents expressed concerns about increasing class sizes for fear of children losing attention, getting lost in the mix and the extra burden that lays upon the teachers as well as not wanting to lay off teachers.
Jennifer Wilson-Pines February 22, 2011 at 02:24 PM
There are 5000+ kids in entire system, not the HS. About 1500 grades 9-12, a little over 1100 in 6-8 at Weber. Apples to apples.
R Miller February 22, 2011 at 04:48 PM
Well as I resident who grew up in Port Washington, who went to Port Schools, who owns a business in Port Washington we are at a point that hard choices have to be made. In this economy almost every business has been forced to run lean and mean. I think schools should also take a look on how they operate. I personally feel if all involved savings could be made with little pain to all. If everyone gave a little it will all work out without these dramatics. Raising taxes is not the answer to over burdened businesses in this area. As it is if I did not love this town so much we would have moved my business to another area in the county and pay $29,000 a year less in taxes.
Richard Sussman February 24, 2011 at 10:21 AM
It's about time out school board became truly fiscally responsible instead of the constant waste and handing out money like it's candy to it's friends. The state is not to blame, the school board is. Look at the last teacher contract, probably the worst I have ever seen in Port and did nothing to help the students.
Diana Intintoli February 24, 2011 at 04:04 PM
In regards to food service, the cafeteria is "self-operating". In Port Washington, the food service is bid out to a company, I believe it is Aramark, and it is a business that runs itself. There are no tax payer dollars spent to run the operation as it is prohibited by law. It is also very convenient for families where both parents work to feel confident that your child will receive breakfast and lunch everyday without having to add another stressor to the busy morning, at no cost to the school district. The kitchens were sold out a long time ago....they actually were one of the first programs to go.
Deborah Rosen March 24, 2011 at 04:20 PM
Geoffrey N. Gordon, Superintendent of Port Washington Schools, was noticeably absent. "Dr. Gordon is sick and could not attend the meting, " said Board Member Rob Seiden. :The stress and frustration over these potential cuts is affecting him - it's a very scary time for all of us." Why are we paying our superintendent Geoffrey Gordon $295,000 a year. All jobs have pressure and obviously he is showing that he cannot handle it so he should resign. We should find someone who can handle the pressures of the position. Wouldn't it be great that all of us can take off a day of meetings because of the stress of our job. Let us thank our teachers for the great job that they are doing to place our school in such high regard. It is time that Geoffrey Gordon stops taking credit for this!!! Our Newsweek ranking for high schools have dropped since Geoffrey Gordon has taken his position
Deborah Rosen March 24, 2011 at 04:21 PM
Geoffrey N. Gordon, Superintendent of Port Washington Schools, was noticeably absent. "Dr. Gordon is sick and could not attend the meting, " said Board Member Rob Seiden. :The stress and frustration over these potential cuts is affecting him - it's a very scary time for all of us." Why are we paying our superintendent Geoffrey Gordon $295,000 a year. All jobs have pressure and obviously he is showing that he cannot handle it so he should resign. We should find someone who can handle the pressures of the position. Wouldn't it be great that all of us can take off a day of meetings because of the stress of our job. Let us thank our teachers for the great job that they are doing to place our school in such high regard. It is time that Geoffrey Gordon stops taking credit for this!!! Our Newsweek ranking for high schools have dropped since Geoffrey Gordon has taken his position
Deborah Rosen March 24, 2011 at 04:21 PM
Geoffrey N. Gordon, Superintendent of Port Washington Schools, was noticeably absent. "Dr. Gordon is sick and could not attend the meting, " said Board Member Rob Seiden. :The stress and frustration over these potential cuts is affecting him - it's a very scary time for all of us." Why are we paying our superintendent Geoffrey Gordon $295,000 a year. All jobs have pressure and obviously he is showing that he cannot handle it so he should resign. We should find someone who can handle the pressures of the position. Wouldn't it be great that all of us can take off a day of meetings because of the stress of our job. Let us thank our teachers for the great job that they are doing to place our school in such high regard. It is time that Geoffrey Gordon stops taking credit for this!!! Our Newsweek ranking for high schools have dropped since Geoffrey Gordon has taken his position
Deborah Rosen March 24, 2011 at 04:21 PM
Geoffrey N. Gordon, Superintendent of Port Washington Schools, was noticeably absent. "Dr. Gordon is sick and could not attend the meting, " said Board Member Rob Seiden. :The stress and frustration over these potential cuts is affecting him - it's a very scary time for all of us." Why are we paying our superintendent Geoffrey Gordon $295,000 a year. All jobs have pressure and obviously he is showing that he cannot handle it so he should resign. We should find someone who can handle the pressures of the position. Wouldn't it be great that all of us can take off a day of meetings because of the stress of our job. Let us thank our teachers for the great job that they are doing to place our school in such high regard. It is time that Geoffrey Gordon stops taking credit for this!!! Our Newsweek ranking for high schools have dropped since Geoffrey Gordon has taken his position
Deborah Rosen March 24, 2011 at 04:21 PM
Geoffrey N. Gordon, Superintendent of Port Washington Schools, was noticeably absent. "Dr. Gordon is sick and could not attend the meting, " said Board Member Rob Seiden. :The stress and frustration over these potential cuts is affecting him - it's a very scary time for all of us." Why are we paying our superintendent Geoffrey Gordon $295,000 a year. All jobs have pressure and obviously he is showing that he cannot handle it so he should resign. We should find someone who can handle the pressures of the position. Wouldn't it be great that all of us can take off a day of meetings because of the stress of our job. Let us thank our teachers for the great job that they are doing to place our school in such high regard. It is time that Geoffrey Gordon stops taking credit for this!!! Our Newsweek ranking for high schools have dropped since Geoffrey Gordon has taken his position
Deborah Rosen March 24, 2011 at 04:21 PM
Geoffrey N. Gordon, Superintendent of Port Washington Schools, was noticeably absent. "Dr. Gordon is sick and could not attend the meting, " said Board Member Rob Seiden. :The stress and frustration over these potential cuts is affecting him - it's a very scary time for all of us." Why are we paying our superintendent Geoffrey Gordon $295,000 a year. All jobs have pressure and obviously he is showing that he cannot handle it so he should resign. We should find someone who can handle the pressures of the position. Wouldn't it be great that all of us can take off a day of meetings because of the stress of our job. Let us thank our teachers for the great job that they are doing to place our school in such high regard. It is time that Geoffrey Gordon stops taking credit for this!!! Our Newsweek ranking for high schools have dropped since Geoffrey Gordon has taken his position
Deborah Rosen March 24, 2011 at 04:21 PM
Geoffrey N. Gordon, Superintendent of Port Washington Schools, was noticeably absent. "Dr. Gordon is sick and could not attend the meting, " said Board Member Rob Seiden. :The stress and frustration over these potential cuts is affecting him - it's a very scary time for all of us." Why are we paying our superintendent Geoffrey Gordon $295,000 a year. All jobs have pressure and obviously he is showing that he cannot handle it so he should resign. We should find someone who can handle the pressures of the position. Wouldn't it be great that all of us can take off a day of meetings because of the stress of our job. Let us thank our teachers for the great job that they are doing to place our school in such high regard. It is time that Geoffrey Gordon stops taking credit for this!!! Our Newsweek ranking for high schools have dropped since Geoffrey Gordon has taken his position
Deborah Rosen March 24, 2011 at 04:22 PM
Geoffrey N. Gordon, Superintendent of Port Washington Schools, was noticeably absent. "Dr. Gordon is sick and could not attend the meting, " said Board Member Rob Seiden. :The stress and frustration over these potential cuts is affecting him - it's a very scary time for all of us." Why are we paying our superintendent Geoffrey Gordon $295,000 a year. All jobs have pressure and obviously he is showing that he cannot handle it so he should resign. We should find someone who can handle the pressures of the position. Wouldn't it be great that all of us can take off a day of meetings because of the stress of our job. Let us thank our teachers for the great job that they are doing to place our school in such high regard. It is time that Geoffrey Gordon stops taking credit for this!!! Our Newsweek ranking for high schools have dropped since Geoffrey Gordon has taken his position

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