2011-03-04 / Front Page

Superintendent Calls For Reduction in Staff, Increase in Class Size

By Stephanie Petrellese

The proposed 2011-12 school budget will include a net reduction of 13.2 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions, announced Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Feirsen at a Garden City Board of Education budget work session on Wednesday evening. The superintendent also requested that class size guidelines be altered.

“We have worked hard to control every factor we could...The real money is in personnel, and so the only way to handle the unprecedented challenges that we face is really to reduce personnel,” he said.

Dr. Feirsen also asked the school board to consider increasing the class size cap from 25 to 26 for classes in grades two through six. At Stewart School in September, the third grade enrollment is anticipated to be 158 students. There will be four sections of 26 students and two sections, or classes, with 27. The average class size in this grade will be 26.3.

At Stratford, the incoming fourth grade class will be affected. Enrollment is expected to total 159. There will be three sections of 26 and three of 27, making the average class size 26.5.

Dr. Feirsen explained that enrollment fluctuates, and in the past if more than half of the sections exceeded 25 students at the elementary school level, another section would be opened. This will also be followed if enrollment increases before the start of the upcoming school year. One full-time equivalent position in general education is being reserved in the budget in case of a potential enrollment increase.

However, he suggested several reductions that equate to a net reduction of 13.2 full-time equivalent positions, most of which are enrollment or scheduling driven. “We feel fortunate in some ways that the enrollment in some areas is going down,” he said. “It has made some very difficult decisions just a little bit easier.”

One administrative position, the grade 6-12 special education coordinator, is a proposed staffing reduction.

At the primary schools, the reductions are due to a decrease in enrollment. At Locust, one first-grade teacher and a .3 developmental skills teacher; at Hemlock, one first-grade teacher; and at Homestead one kindergarten and first-grade teacher are proposed to be eliminated.

At the elementary level, the rationale for personnel reductions differs. At Stewart, a .2 instrumental music teacher and a .5 reading teacher are proposed to be eliminated. Dr. Feirsen explained that these positions were removed to achieve more efficient scheduling. At Stratford, three teachers in grades two and five, and one teacher in grade four, will be eliminated. The second- and fifth-grade teachers are being cut due to an enrollment decrease. The fourth-grade teacher will not be needed if the class size guidelines are increased by one student.

The Middle School proposed personnel reductions include one sixth-grade teacher due to enrollment decrease; a .4 librarian, who will teach a study skills class for the equivalent time; a .1 home and career skills teacher to eliminate overage; and a .2 music rotation to achieve more efficient scheduling.

At the High School, proposed teacher reductions include .1 art, .1 business and .5 music rotation teachers to achieve better scheduling. A .8 reading teacher, whose position was funded by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act aid, will be eliminated since the ARRA money will no longer be available. A .6 technology teacher will be cut due to low enrollment and a .5 special education position in an integrated support class will be cut to achieve more efficient scheduling.

Teacher aide positions are also being proposed to be cut: one library teacher aide at the three primary schools, and one library/general education teacher aide at both Stewart and Stratford. Support staff reductions include one technology/IT specialist, one AV technician, one cleaner/attendant at the high school and middle school, a .5 clerk and one bus driver. In addition, the hours worked by the weekend security guard will be reduced so that the guard works later in the day.The district is faced with a significant reduction in state aid; Albert Chase, assistant superintendent for business and finance, said Garden City will see a state aid decrease of nearly 13.61 percent, which would total $424,510, if Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget is passed. Federal aid is also uncertain.

Not surprisingly, Dr. Feirsen’s proposals elicited many comments from residents in the audience. The majority of residents, including PTA President Gail Madigan, said they are against a change in the class size guidelines. Dr. Feirsen said the class sizes are on par with other districts, and they are all experiencing similar financial challenges.

Mary Lou Keating, Special Education Parent Teacher Association (SEPTA) president, is concerned about the proposed elimination of the grade 6-12 special education coordinator. Dr. Feirsen said the district is in the process of redesigning supervision in the area of special education.

Dr. Feirsen’s presentation on Wednesday focused on the instructional component of the budget, which comprises the largest portion with a total of $75,214,842 or 74.38 percent.

Dr. Feirsen’s proposed budget is $101,117,058, which is 3.19 percent higher than last year. The projected tax levy increase (with STAR) is 2.71 percent. He emphasized that the budget is still a work in progress.

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