The start of the today comes with a surprise in Port Chester.
The has re-hired 10 reading teachers who were as a result of the . While they are not in the same assignments, schools Superintendent Edward Kliszus said the teachers are back at work in the district, with the exception of three teachers who found jobs in other school districts.
The hirings were made possible through normal staff attrition and by cost savings created through changes in programs for special education students. Kliszus also cited negotiated savings from district labor contracts as a key factor, as well.
“I am pleased that we were able to re-hire these experienced and talented teachers," Kliszus said. "At the same time, I would like taxpayers and our employees to note that we did not create new positions, but rather filled existing positions due to retirements and resignations, and staffed special education classes for students who would have been in costly out-of-district placements.”
The Port Chester school board approved the layoffs as part of the 2012-2013 budget process. The district — like school districts throughout New York State — was struggling to cope with the new 2 percent cap on tax increases imposed by the state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The district at one point considered cutting kindergarten to a half-day, but decided against that measure. The full-day kindergarten program in Port Chester is not required by state Education Law. However, the reading support program as it previously existed did not survive the budget process.
“These recalls would not have been possible were it not for the significant financial savings from the board’s successful efforts in settling all employment contracts by June 30,” Kliszus said. “I commend the Board of Education, members of the board negotiating team, and all of the district employees for coming to the negotiating table and putting children first.”
The restored teaching jobs, according to the district, were possible in part because of savings the Port Chester school district is expecting by not sending special education students to other schools for services. Those services are now provided in the district.
Port Chester teachers welcomed the news that teachers have been re-hired.
"As to the 13.5 reading positions cut because of the 2% tax levy cap, the Port Chester Teachers Association is happy to see that 10.5 of the staff has returned to teach in our district," said Virginia Ellis, a teacher who is president of the Port Chester Teachers Association. "Three of our teachers found jobs in other districts. Two of our reading teachers are teaching reading at the Middle School. Some of the reading teachers were rehired as RTI/AIS (‘Response to Intervention) specialists for our elementary schools, and others returned as classroom teachers. Thanks to the sacrifices of our PCTA members, the district was able to restore these teaching positions."
In June, Port Chester teachers and the district , ending long-running negotiations.
At the time, agreement was expected to save the district about $1 million in the 2012-2013 budget year alone as compared to the raises and benefits under the previous contract. The agreement also includes provisions for classroom teacher evaluations that are in compliance with the state-mandated Annual Professional Performance Review initiative.
The key elements of the agreement include:
- A 0.5% annual salary increase for the last three years of the contract, 2012-13 through 2014-15
- A five-month delay on step and lane changes (salary reclassification due respectively to longevity or college credits earned).
- The salary increases are not retroactive to the 2011-12 school year.
In addition, the agreement calls for PCTA members to join the administrators and civil service employees in migrating their health insurance from the more expensive Aetna and Oxford plans to SWSCHP (State-Wide Schools Cooperative Health Plan) or maintain the more expensive carrier and pay the additional costs.
While teachers and staff in the district went back to work today, classes in the district do not begin until Wednesday.
Although the old reading support program is gone, the district says a new program is designed to focus on reading and literacy.
Port Chester’s four elementary schools are now scheduling a special period each day so that a team of special educators and elementary specialists can work in each classroom and individualize literacy instruction.
“We will be following state mandates while utilizing best practices for ‘Response to Intervention’ (RTI) in an innovative and efficient way," Kliszus said. "Our goal is to address the individual needs of all students, whether they are struggling to read or are advanced readers. RTI is a mandate to identify early strugglers and intervene adequately and appropriately. In addition, with high quality RTI services in place fewer children are identified for special education supports."
During this special period, literacy specialists and special education teachers in each school will work with assigned students in small groups. The classroom teacher and the “RTI Interventionists” will function as a team to continuously monitor and evaluate each student’s progress and change assigned groups as the student’s needs and abilities change, Kliszus explained.
Previously, Port Chester elementary school students who could benefit from reading help left their classrooms. However, that meant they missed out as their classmates moved on to other topics in the regular classroom.
In the new system, no new content will be taught during the daily reading and literacy period. Kliszus said students will receive appropriate literacy instruction, while others who are well above grade level may receive enrichment opportunities so they and explore deeping into their classroom subjects.
Kliszuz said the effort helps struggling students and those who are advanced, with all elementary students benefitting from observation and assessment by multiple teachers.