NORFOLK - It was standing room only Tuesday night when the Norwood-Norfolk Central School Board of Education met for a budget work session, and the audience members had one focus - saving a position that was possibly on the chopping block.
Facing a budget gap of approximately $888,000 in their 2014-15 budget proposal, school officials have proposed a number of ways to whittle the number down. One of them involves the elimination of eight full-time equivalent positions, which includes core teachers, support staff and Academic Intervention Services to save $498,000.
The potential cut that was of concern to speakers was a learning support program, where some students and recent graduates who struggled in school said they felt more comfortable taking tests rather than in their regular education classroom. The teacher also assists with homework and, in some cases, helps students with personal issues.
There are lot of anxiety issues within the classroom. Testing is a huge part of classrooms, said one student, who was not identified,.
She told board members she was speaking on behalf of the student body.
She said that when accommodations are made for students with disabilities, they feel accepted in their new environment.
Please realize where us students are coming from . What are you going to do with us? she asked.
A student who graduated from the school said he appreciated having the learning support program, which he suggested helped him graduate.
Because of the program, he said, he was able to keep his grades up and pass, and said the teacher was always available if he was having academic issues.
Another student who graduated last year said similar accommodations are being made for her at college.
When I had to take a test in a different room, it was awesome, she said. Shes an amazing person. If I had a personal problem, I could go to her and shed help me. I want you guys to realize it does have an impact on students.
Another student said, because of the program, he was able to raise his grades to the 80s and 90s and getting rid of it would drive kids to drop out.
A parent who spoke said her son was very dyslexic. He does not understand symbols with reading and writing. However, at the same time, he had an artistic talent and had one of his pieces featured on the front cover of a magazine.
Everybody has gifts. My sons gift may not be in reading, she said, noting she was worried that, without the program, her son may consider dropping out of school.
I hope as a parent we can reconsider some of these decisions. Were here for the kids, she said.
Another parent said her son, a 2011 graduate, struggled and considered dropping out.
He hated school except for sports, she said.
Reading a letter from her son, she said, Two people helped me the most. They helped me so much and encouraged me to keep going even when I didnt want to.
She said her son is now in Canton to attend the police academy and is looking forward to a career in law enforcement.
Teachers who spoke said that cutting the program was wrong at a time when the world of education was changing because of the introduction of the Common Core this year.
The elimination of eight full-time equivalent positions would be on top of 23 full-time equivalent positions from both instructional and non-instructional areas that have already been lost since 2010.
Their reductions include four playground monitors, two study hall monitors, one teacher clerical, two-and-a-half cleaners, one cook/manager, three food service workers, one BOCES counselor, one business office clerical, one librarian, one facilities manager, one food service manager, four teacher assistants, one bus driver and 12 teachers from the across the board, including math, science, technology, ELA, music, social, physical education, special education and adaptive physical education.
Theyve also lost junior varsity sports, K through six summer school and their summer recreation program to cuts.
So, Superintendent James M. Cruikshank said, it wasnt easy to suggest that eight more positions be eliminated in order to close the gap. They would also use fund balance to cover the remainder of the gap.
We dont feel that any of these reductions will be good for the kids or program, he said.
Some of the potential cuts would affect program less than others, Mr. Cruikshank said.
Some are easier to do than others. Some could be made without significant impact to program. Others would be catastrophic, he told board members.
With the cuts, he said It limits choices significantly. We will really take a hit on teachers teaching academic intervention services
If they receive more state aid than anticipated and can restore some of the positions, we have somewhat of an idea of the ones wed look at first.
Other options presented for board members to consider as a way to erase the gap included using additional fund balance, looking at sports and other extracurricular activities, increasing the tax rate and line-by-line reductions, which Mr. Cruikshank and Business Manager Lisa M. Mitras have been doing.
If we want to exceed the tax cap even by a little, we would need a lot of support, he said.