Save Our Staff – teachers, students urge board to reconsider cuts

Spurred by layoff notices sent to 13 teachers and 15 support staff members, taxpayers and students marched to the podium Monday night to urge the Granville Board of Education to reconsider its 2011-2012 budget proposal and save those jobs.

On Friday, as required by contract, the 28 school employees received Reduction in Force (RIF) notices, alerting them they could lose their jobs at the end of June if the present budget is accpeted. The teacher layoffs would come all major departments, as well as several places. The support staff members work throughout the school system.

The expected crowd resulted in the board moving the meeting to the from the high school library to the auditorium, where members of that crowd pleaded with the board to not eliminate the jobs of teachers variously described as life savers and personal heroes.

“I’m the first one in my family to go to college and it’s because of these teachers,” senior Ashley Simpson said.

“I can’t stand to see those teachers go,” students Suzanne VanGelder said breaking into tears.

Following a budget presentation by Superintendent Mark Bessen which illuminated the need for each one of the potential cuts, residents spoke to the board for nearly two hours asking for some other cost savings to be found as a way to keep the people selected to possibly lose their jobs.

Bessen and board members stressed the RIF notifications do not mean the individual has lost their job; it is a contractual requirement to alert employees which must be done by April 1. It remains unclear who or how many jobs will be lost although some losses appear inevitable, he said.

In the presentation, Bessen said the alternative to the potential job losses was a 13 percent tax increase to bridge the budget gap after announced state education aid was reduced by an additional $904,784.

Under the proposed $132.9 billion state budget Granville stands to lose $904,784 additional state funding on top of aid losses from last year, totaling $1.72 million.

In the 2010-2011 budget the district lost $815,303 in state aid, a gap the Granville Board of Education closed, at least in part, with cuts and fund balance money as the $24.2 million budget did not raise taxes for the second year in a row. The district used more than $400,000 to close the gap and keep tax rates level last year.

Bessen said the board plans to use continue to use the fund balance to help get the district through tough times, but dipping into it too deeply could leave the school short of operating costs. Combined with a tax increase of 2 percent, the district’s plan is to use just short of $1 million. 

“These are not fun time for the Granville School District,” board of education President Kathy Nelson said.

At least one resident, also an art teacher, Sam Frandino urged the board to put forward a budget to the voters containing the tax increase.

Frandino said he thought the residents of the community would “step up” and pay higher taxes to keep the at-risk teachers around.

“I think these people might pay the $400,” he said, citing a chart from the superintendent’s budget presentation which showed the tax increase for a $100,000 home under a 13 tax levy increase amounted to a $400 increase in school taxes.  

Ann O’Brien, one of the teachers who found out she could be losing her job also urged the board to put the matter before the tax payers. “Give the community the chance to consider what they want,” she said.

At least one person disagreed with that standpoint. Gary Didier said as a small business owner his income was not going up, expenses were. Didier said he could support a tax increase of as much as 4 percent, if the teachers were prepared to offer some sort of concession of their own. Teacher’s union President Lynn Wilbur declined to answer a question regarding concessions citing contract negotiations which were currently under way.  

Beverly Tatko, who has served as board president and interim town supervisor, said she too thought 13 percent was too much of a tax increase to consider given the state of the economy.

Wilbur had several teachers who were also residents, tax payers and potentially jobless speak to being the public comments section of the meeting.

Board member Pam Tatko reminded those in the audience the RIF letter are “a precaution, just in case” and said she would have trouble voting for the cuts based on the reaction of the people who came out Monday night. “Please know this is not set in stone,” she said.

Short of the governor or state legislature adding funding back into the budget, Bessen said the forecast was bleak, but the plan he proposed should get the district through to the other side of the state aid dearth.

Nelson said she “hoped the governor realizes he’s no longer a representative from Long Island.”

“I hope you can remind him of that,” Nelson said as she urged those in the audience to write to the governor and their state officials expressing their concerns regarding the proposed cuts.

As the comments came to a close several commented on the tone and tenor of the evening as having been respectful and thoughtful despite being a subject all felt passionately about.

Bessen and Nelson commended the members of the student body not just for showing up to nearly fill the 486-seat auditorium, but for the well-thought-out and respectful nature of their comments.


Reduction in force

28 staff member of the Granville School District received letters March 18 alerting them to the possible elimination of their job. RIF letters, for reduction in force, are required to go out by April 1 according to the teacher’s union and support staff contract. Potentially eliminated under the budget plan are three special education teachers, two science teachers, and one math, English, social studies, business, language, speech, driver education and an elementary teacher. Also notified were 15 members of the support staff including teacher’s assistants.