Aug 27, 2013 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
After agreeing in July to add an extra third grade teacher at Burton Street Elementary School due to parent and teacher concern over higher-than-expected class sizes in the coming school year, the Cazenovia Board of Education last week unanimously agreed to add another fifth grade teacher as well — and for the same reason.
The action will lower fifth grade class sizes by about five students per class, but it also means that some fifth graders who already received their homeroom assignments will have to be switched to a different class.
As the summer has come to a close, the district has found itself receiving an unusually high number of new students entering the district in grades three and five, which has in turn raised concerns over student-to-teacher ratios in those grades. At the school board’s Aug. 26 meeting, the fifth grade situation was raised as especially concerning because two classes have 27 students and two have 26 — whereas last year classes averaged about 22 students.
This unexpected influx is both “good and bad,” said district Superintendent Bob Dubik — on the one hand it helps check what has been a steadily declining district enrollment, but on the other hand it has necessitated the last-minute hiring of additional teachers that were not really budgeted for this year.
“A different pattern has developed this year … it’s really kind of alarming in a way,” Dubik said. “It certainly wasn’t something we anticipated.”
This year’s fifth grade class ended the 2012-13 year with a total of 98 students. In the past three weeks, eight new fifth grade students have entered the district, which brings the total class population up to 106. These new students have come from out of district, out of state, from private schools and from home school, Dubik said.
The issue of fifth grade student population increases was broached during the public comment period of the board’s recent meeting first by a district parent and then by a fifth grade teacher, both of whom said they were concerned by the high class sizes and urged the board to hire an additional fifth grade teacher to lessen the burden.
“Any class size above 25 is a serious consideration,” said district parent Jim Steinberg. “The board should take a close look at fifth grade.”
Fifth grade Cazenovia teacher Amy Conley agreed, and said that the 27-per-class number does not even include the specifics of special needs students or boy-to-girl ratios. “This is really about what’s best for the kids,” she said. “If we can put back one fifth grade position that would be great. You can do it; it’s been done before.”
Conley was referring to the similar situation that occurred in third grade for this year, which also has had a higher-than-expected influx of new students and which prompted the school board in July to raise the number of third grade teachers from four to five in order to lower class sizes.
Similarly, at the end of the 2012-13 school year, when the district announced it had to lay off a high school social studies teacher who was a student and parent favorite, the board voted to add extra money into the district budget for this year solely to retain that teacher. In the end, the teacher actually left the district for a job at Fayetteville-Manlius High School — and that added salary remains in the budget.
For the school board, the discussion centered around the “precedent” of adding a teacher when class sizes become too high in a grade level — as was done for third grade. Even though an additional fifth grade teacher position is not in this year’s budget, the unspent money for the unhired social studies teacher position could be used to pay the cost.
“If we want to be consistent with class numbers, that money [for an additional fifth grade teacher] wasn’t budgeted — but those numbers are high for us. Twenty-seven kids in a class is high,” Dubik said.
Dubik warned the board that this situation of higher-than-expected numbers of new students could happen again in future years and the board would be setting a precedent to hire extra teachers to keep classes to a certain size. Such a precedent could be problematic in the current financial climate of decreasing state and federal school aid, decreasing district revenues and increasing district costs.
“I think we have to [set that precedent],” said board member Karin Marris.
Bill Furlong, assistant district superintendent for business and finance, said he was “very concerned” about adding anything to the budget that is already stretched thin, because the district needs to be sure to stay within total budget allocated by the community’s budget vote last May.
“We need to go back and do some accounting here,” Furling told the board. “I think we’re covered but I just want to be very careful.”
As an example of his concern, Furlong said that if the district receives one more special education student this year – which the district is mandated to fund under state law – there is no money in the budget to fund that student and some program will have to be directly cut from the budget in order to afford it.
The board ultimately voted unanimously — minus absent member Kathy Hahn — to recommend that Dubik hire an additional fifth grade teacher.
Dubik said he will do so, although it could end up being only a one-year position for that teacher because enrollment numbers fluctuate every year and next year’s fifth grade class may be small enough to require only four teachers.
“This could be a one-year job,” he said. “Next year that teacher may end up in Kindergarten.”
Also at the meeting, the board:
—Heard from Facilities Committee Chair Cindy Tobin Bell that the committee recently met to discuss the anticipated building renovation project and agreed to have a tentative timeline for the project of a school board resolution vote in October, public information meetings in November, a public referendum vote in December and project designs and bids ready for the 2015 construction season. The scope and cost the project are is early to determine but the committee is looking at them with a “broad brush,” she said.
—Heard from Dubik that the Academic Decathlon team has been unable to recruit a faculty advisor but does have a parent willing to volunteer for the job if no teachers step forward. He said the team has raised $7,500 so far for the coming year, and their 2013-14 competition materials have been ordered by the district.
—Heard from Dubik that the graffiti that has been spreading throughout the village of Cazenovia has hit district property as well, with five parking lot signs being spray painted during the summer. Dubik said the village police were notified and all graffiti has been documented.
—Heard from Dubik that during the summer he met with district administrators and clerical staff in all three school buildings to discuss and ensure that school security policies are consistent throughout the district. He said once parents and visitors are buzzed into a school after the day begins they must check in with the office to sign in and will not be allowed to freely roam the halls without identity verification and supervision. He said the district is also looking into the possibility of having identification badges for all district personnel.
—Approved a resolution to participate in the annual cooperative bidding plan for cooperative bids through Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES.
—Approved a resolution to authorize OCM BOCES to operate cooperative adult and continuing education programs at no charge to the district.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.
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