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/.