If the impending school budget vote and the threat of cutting programs weren’t enough, the Port Chester-Rye Union Free School District and Port Chester Teachers Association now have an offer on the table for all the coffee and food they need until they end the and come to agreement on teacher contracts.
The offer was made Thursday night at the Board of Education’s meeting at the Port Chester Middle School by one of the 20-plus people who spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting. The man said if the head negotiators from each side locked themselves in a room, he’d provide all the coffee and food they wanted until they came out holding hands and agreeing on a deal.
Nobody seemed to take him up on the offer Thursday night. While no one else who spoke from the public made an offer to the board, plenty others pleaded to the board to get a deal done with the teachers.
“Just come back to the table and talk,” said Joan Thomas, of Port Chester, during the meeting. “We all have to take responsibility.”
The auditorium at the middle school was packed, with many standing in the back of the room. Before the meeting started, more than 100 people showed up early and stood in the parking lot, holding up signs urging unity between the parents and teachers. Right before the meeting, the marched into the auditorium led by children and parents.
“The advice I have for all of us is to stay positive and to focus on the welfare of the children we serve,” said Bob Johnson, a member of the school board, who added he has experience on both sides of the negotiating table.
The big crowd wasn’t there just for the teachers contracts, however. They were also there because the board recently announced in its proposed budget for next year makes cuts to the reading assistance program, which would put up to 14 teachers who provide help out of class to students struggling reading throughout the district out of work. The proposed cuts come after the March 8th meeting, when it looked the district was going to end full-day kindergarten to try and rid the $2.1 million budget deficit, but a series of events led the board to change its decision and it will still offer full-day kindergarten next year.
While cutting the reading program would save jobs compared to cutting full-day kindergarten, many who spoke at the meeting felt that cutting the reading program would have dire effects on the district and its students.
“A child able to read properly will be able to handle anything that comes his or her way,” said Francis Payne, president of the John F. Kennedy Magnet School PTA.
Payne added that it should be the district and teachers that make concessions.
“We can’t afford to take more and more away from our children,” he said.
Even a few current elementary school students got up to speak, including one from JFK, who said the school taught him to love learning. He also asked the board not to cut the reading program.
“I thought you were supposed to help the kids, because if you are, now would be a good time to start,” he said.
Claudia Vasquez, of Port Chester, said reading is used for all subjects, and taking it away won’t only affect the students in reading classes. She said they need to be able to properly read for word problems in math, essays in social studies and labs in science.
Schools Superintendent Edward A. Kliszus said one thing he felt many who spoke misunderstood is that they aren’t cutting the reading program.
“Everyone teaches English, reading and comprehension,” he said. “That’s done in every subject area.”
He added that the program in that is cut in the proposed budget deals with reading assistance, but that reading itself would remain in the curriculum.
“Language is the core of all disciplines, language, reading and reading comprehension,” he said. “That’s why every subject area is taught with reading.”
Kliszus added that another reason the change was made in the proposed budget was that if they cut the kindergarten, they would lose the rental space.
“We could not return kindergarten for perhaps six, seven, even longer years because there’s no space, whereas auxiliary programs, on ancillary or pullout programs, like reading, could easily be restored should funding come its way back to the district,” he said. “So that was the main issue.”
Johnson, who was voted onto the board last May, is a teacher in Stamford and said he empathizes with what the teachers are currently going through. He also added that while they can hope for state aide, they must “act in the real world” and think about longterm issues, not just getting next year’s budget in order.
“I did not run for a seat on this board to oversee the dismantling of our school district. I did not run to sit here and preside over layoffs and program cuts. I did not run for this seat to do harm to our children’s education,” he said. “I ran in order to oversee continuous improvement. We are parents, all of us here on the board. Two of us are working teachers. We don’t want this. I think that my colleagues will agree that I speak for all the members of this board, we do not want these cuts.”
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