District Says Kindergarten Classes, Music Programs and Athletics Could Be On Chopping Block

School leaders say they'll have to cut into those programs if Port Chester doesn't get budget help from Albany.

Could Port Chester schools really lose things like music programs, elementary school libraries and advanced placement classes?

While it sounds far-fetched, school leaders said those programs -- and many others -- could be eliminated if the district doesn't get budget relief from Albany.

Port Chester schools operate under an $80 million budget this year, and district leaders say there's an impending increase of at least $3.3 million this budget cycle just to cover mandatory expenses like employee benefits.

With state aid frozen and a tax levy cap in place, district leaders met with parents and taxpayers Monday night to urge them to write letters and lobby the governor and legislators for budget relief.

Superintendent Edward Kliszus painted a dismal fiscal picture at that meeting as he took the audience through scenarios where Port Chester does not get help in the form of more state aid or exemptions.

"What's not mandated is what I've listed here, and these are the terrible things the Board of Education will have to look at and consider," Kliszus said as a projector slide listed programs behind him. "There's not one thing on this list that anyone wants to cut."

Possible cuts include reducing kindergarten classes to half a day, eliminating the ELC program, cutting elementary school library services and doing away with advanced placement courses. Along with the cuts to academics, instrumental music programs and athletics programs could be sacrificed, the superintendent said.

The board would also consider cuts that have indirect, but significant, impact on academics: Postponing the replacement of old textbooks, eliminating full-time teacher aides and replacing them with part-timers, and cutting budget lines for things like bussing and building maintenance, according to school officials.

Everything presented Monday night was tentative, including budget figures. School leaders have a good idea of how dire the situation is, but won't know all the details until early next year, when Albany will release details on state aid and things like pension costs.

On Monday, school leaders said the goal was to lobby Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders well ahead of the state's April 1 budget adoption.

"All we want you to do is to advocate on behalf of the children here in Port Chester," said Blanca Lopez, the school board's president. "We need to make sure that our school district gets its fair share of state aid."

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