Residents Protest Proposed Firings

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More than 100 teachers, students and residents attended last week’s Eastport South Manor School Board meeting to plead with board members not to fire 14 teachers next year due to declining state aid.?District officials announced the cuts earlier this month, after unveiling their proposed $77.5 million budget for the 2008-2009 school year. The proposed spending plan, which still has not been adopted by the School Board, calls for the firing of 11 elementary school teachers and three secondary school teachers. Four support staff positions are also slated to be eliminated under the spending plan. ?Dana Wolf was among nine high school cheerleaders to speak during the meeting last Wednesday, March 19. The 15-year-old Manorville resident said the teachers to be laid off would include her cheerleading coach, Katie Marinara. ?Dana and other cheerleaders praised their teacher and coach as a positive role model. The student also criticized School Board members for considering spending $40,000 for new flat-screen televisions, computers and SmartBoards while teachers’ jobs were on the line. The preliminary budget had earmarked $180,000 for new computer labs, though board members have since eliminated that expenditure.?”Getting new flat-screen TVs isn’t going to help kids get an education,” Dana said. “What is going to help kids’ education is more teachers.”?Schools Superintendent Mark Nocero empathized with the young woman, praising Ms. Marinara and the other teachers for their skills and commitment to students. In a soft voice that cracked with emotion, the superintendent said the firings are difficult decisions for him and board members to make.?Mr. Nocero added that the firings could save the district nearly $1 million next year—savings that are critical, he warned, because even with the teaching positions cut, district residents are still looking at a double-digit tax increase under current state aid projections. ?The superintendent’s proposed $77.5 million budget for 2008-2009, if approved by the School Board, will increase overall spending by about $5 million next year, a 7-percent jump over this year. The school district is expecting a 2.8-percent increase, or roughly $781,000, in financial aid under former Governor Eliot Spitzer’s state budget. That is a sharp drop from the 11.75-percent, or $2.9 million increase in state aid the district received for the 2007-2008 year. ?School Board President Karen Kesnig expressed hope that the new governor, David Paterson, might be more generous with state aid than Mr. Spitzer. If more state aid does not become available, and the school district’s budget fails to pass, Eastport South Manor would face a contingency budget that would entail more than $2 million in additional cuts to staff and programs.?”We are doing our best not to do anything that would hurt students,” Mr. Nocero added.?Speaking on behalf of the Eastport South Manor Teachers Association, Eastport Elementary School teacher George Marino said he understood the tough spot diminished state aid has put school officials in. Mr. Marino vowed that he, and other teachers, would work with board members to get the message to Governor Paterson and state legislators that Eastport South Manor needs more money from Albany.?”We will pay for buses, attend rallies, and protest in Albany to show our displeasure with the current state package,” Mr. Marino said. “We will make phone calls, write letters, and send fliers to community members asking for their support.”?Mr. Nocero said some classroom sizes from kindergarten through eighth grade would be slightly larger next year with the proposed firings. Several residents expressed concern that larger class sizes could affect the quality of education students would receive.?The superintendent assured them that classroom sizes would still be at healthy standards and student education would not suffer as a result. Mr. Nocero said classes from kindergarten through fifth grade would not exceed 25 students, and grades six through eight would have a maximum of 27 students per classroom.

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