Apr 23, 2011 Ned Campbell Uncategorized
When the New York State Legislature restored $580,000 of aid to the West Genesee School District, Superintendent Chris Brown decided to use $392,000 to lower the tax levy from a 4.8 percent increase to 3.8 percent and put some back into reserves.
Camillus Mayor Michael Montero says Brown should have considered using it to bring laid off teachers back- the district has not changed its plan to reduce programming and eliminate 53 positions.
Montero owns the String Corner on Main Street in the village of Camillus. He said many customers have shared with him their concerns that cuts to the string program are not being reevaluated.
“I tell them to talk to the board of education and superintendent and let your voice be heard,” Montero said. “If you don’t’ show up at your board meetings and voice your concerns, people don’t know what you’re thinking.”
Personally, Montero is frustrated that three part-time string teachers will not return next year as part of the district’s reduction of the third-grade string program. Those teachers are Margaret Mercer, Jill DiBattista and Kristen Panzetta, and Montero knows their abilities well. Montero teaches private lessons and heads up the Onondaga Youth String Ensemble.
“In my opinion, I would honestly say that these three are probably some of the finest string teachers we have in the county,” Montero said. “This district should be lucky to have them, and to let them go – you don’t replace that talent very easily.”
Montero pointed to schools like Cicero-North Syracuse, Baldwinsville and Jamesville-Dewitt, which adjusted their budgets to reinstate some programming and teacher positions following the influx of funds from the Legislature.
Superintendent Brown said he’s planning for the future.
“While there are some schools that are bringing pack pieces of their fine arts program because of state aid coming back, my take is those are things that are going be getting cut again next year,” Brown said.
He said school districts need to be making compromises considering the current economic climate.
“Let’s try to find the new reality,” he said. “Let’s accept the fact that there’s going to be less money for schools. Let’s find ways in our structure to make things work the best we can.”
The district also proposed cutting the fourth-grade band program. Brown said he feels the string and band program can continue to prosper with kids starting a year later.
He said he understood people’s concerns that experienced teachers are losing their jobs. Mercer and Panzetta, though both part-time employees, each have about 20 years of experience teaching at West Genesee.
“As soon as I can get them back, I will,” Brown said.
Montero is concerned that by cutting two elementary teachers, the district is reducing its elementary string staff by 66 percent. He said this will result in a drop-off in quality of education, as teachers are moved around to fill in the gaps.
“You don’t cover a teacher’s position,” he said. “You try to replace it with someone who’s qualified.”
The district also proposed cutting the fourth-grade band program.
“I don’t’ see how you keep the quality of [the string and band] programs by letting people go, at least not without spreading people incredibly thin,” Montero said.
From listening to Gov. Cuomo speak about his two-year budget plan. Superintendent Brown said he feels that a 2 percent tax cap for 2012-13 is likely. Cuomo plans to restore 4 percent of state aid back to schools in 2012-13, though he hasn’t said how that money will be dispersed. A 2 percent tax cap would force the West Genesee to reduce its budget for 2012-13 by an estimated $760,000, Brown said.
“We’re not going to get the kind of state aid that’s going to make up that kind of a difference,” he said.
Even if a tax cap isn’t put in place, the superintendent said he is wary of letting taxes rise.
“How long can any community sustain higher taxes?” he said.