May 09, 2011 Ned Campbell Uncategorized
Superintendent Chris Brown addressed the concerns of parents over the elimination of three part-time elementary level string teachers at a final budget hearing held May 4. Margaret Mercer, Jill DiBattista and Kristen Panzetta are all being let go. Mercer and Panzetta each have about 20 years of experience teaching at West Genesee.
“Of all the things that we are reducing for net year, probably the largest amount of information that I’ve gotten from parents has been the elimination of the third strings program,” he said.
“What I want you to know as parents is this,” he continued. “Having kids in the district and being a part of the process for years and years to come, these decisions were made very, very carefully.”
Brown said he asked the Fine Arts Director Bill Davern to take his own children and imagine they are back in kindergarten.
“And you’ve gotta recreate a fine arts program that is still going to round students out and give them opportunities when they graduate, and this is what was created from that conversation.”
Brown told parents and students in the audience to hold him accountable for this: “If you’re a parent of a second grader, or you are a second grader sitting in here, you won’t have third grade string next year; however, your child, or you, yourself, should see no difference in terms of what we offer, lesson sizes, or anything, from grades four through twelve.”
Brown said that if the budget should pass on May 17, the district planned to bring back .8 of a string position “in order to do what we do. We also have to make some schedule modifications in the high school and both middle schools with the staff we have left to make sure we have adequate coverage in grades four through twelve.”
Following Brown’s presentation, about 10 residents spoke against Brown’s plan to reduce three string teachers.
Camillus Mayor Michael Montero, who owns The String Corner on Main Street, asked if the board had considered putting the tax levy up for a vote before adopting the budget to see what residents were willing to pay to save certain positions. When some state aid was restored by the legislature in April, Brown chose to use the money to bring the tax levy increase down from 4.8 percent to 3.8 percent rather than bring back any of the 53 reduced positions.
“I would say to you as a violin shop owner, I deal with every string educator in the county, in Madison County and Cayuga County, and I will tell you that you have the finest teachers available in this county for those jobs,” Montero said.
“When you have the cream of the crop you do everything to keep them,” he added. “If you have half a staff reduction, how do you keep the quality of service? You don’t have third grade strings, but how do you fill all those other classes with the same quality, intensity and passion that the three ladies that are unfortunately being let go provide? I ask that if there is a chance to revise anything after the budget vote that you highly consider that, because it is a cornerstone of this district.”
Following applause from residents, Brown addressed the mayor’s question. He said the board, as representatives of the community, had strongly considered how much of a tax levy increase residents could sustain before arriving at the 3.8 percent increase.
“I value all of the teachers that are being let go,” he added. “As a superintendent, I won’t put myself in a position where I am valuing one person or two people over the other 49 that I had to let go.”
Jenny Castro of presented the board with copies of letters to the superintendent written by students at Camillus and Easthill middle schools supporting the string teachers that are being let go.
“They go way past what was said here and I think what was said here tonight was amazing,” she said.
Her son Manny, grade six, read his letter to residents in attendance.
“I’m writing in regards to the string program,” he said. “I’m concerned that without Mrs. Panzetta or Mrs. Mercer, our orchestra students will not be as talented or as passionate as they would be with them. I never had an orchestra teacher other than Mrs. Panzetta or Mrs. Mercer. And when we had a sub, class was boring, and I wanted to fall asleep.
“Mrs. Panzetta has a distinct passion and a spontaneous personality,” he said, adding: “She has confidence in her students that we don’t have ourselves, and that is what drives us to succeed in our music. The same with Mrs. Mercer. I feel sad when I think of West Genesee without Mrs. Panzetta and Mrs. Mercer. I feel like they are a symbol for our talented orchestras from elementary to high school … We all hope you will reconsider your decision.”