Parents and taxpayers vented their frustration Thursday night as the school district looks for ways to close a $2.1 million budget gap.
Without a dramatic increase in state aid or an improbable budget vote permitting the district to exceed the tax levy cap, Port Chester school leaders are looking at a three-pronged approach to seal the gap: Reduce kindergarten to a , eliminate the Early Learning Center at JFK Magnet School, and lay off teachers and staff.
While homeowners are looking for tax relief, parents and teachers took to a podium at Port Chester Middle School's auditorium and said none of the cuts are acceptable. The meeting was moved to the middle school's auditorium to
accommodate the larger crowd; hundreds filled the seats, while others crammed in around the auditorium's twin entrances.
Parents were particulary irked by the potential loss of the Early Learning Center, which was established in 2008 to alleviate overcrowding in Port Chester's elementary schools.
"You're taking away our foundation, which is ELC," said Jessica Rivera, a parent and a counselor at the middle school. "The success of my child ... could not be achieved without the ELC."
Ann Rose Santoro, an elementary school teacher, warned of "a tsunami of negative effects" if the district does away with programs for its youngest students.
Elementary school kids would lose four computer labs and a science lab in the proposed cuts, while teachers and aids would make up the bulk of more than two dozen slashed positions. The early 2012-2013 budget draft is $80,897,493, up more than $1.3 million from .
While teachers without tenure fear for their jobs, the teachers union has taken a hard line on concessions that could save those jobs, according to some school community members on the periphery of ongoing negotiations.
The union could help the district close the $2.1 million budget gap by making two concessions: Settling on one insurance provider for health benefits, instead of the current three, and agreeing to limit teacher salary increases to one percent for the next three years. Several people familiar with the talks say they won't move forward without the help of a mediator.
The potential deal hasn't been publicly discussed, and district leaders didn't mention it Thursday night.
Instead, they hedged their bets on a potential local solution (overriding the tax levy cap) and a state solution. Superintendent Edward Kliszus placed the blame for the school's budget woes , and said the district should pressure Gov. Andrew Cuomo into doling out cash from $250 million in unallocated state education funds.
Parents and taxpayers have already sent to state representatives like Assemblyman George Latimer and state Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer, and Kliszus told the hundreds of people in the middle school auditorium to send more.
"We have a window of opportunity," he said. "Things can still happen until April 1, when the governor's budget is set."
Without intervention from Albany or an unlikely chain of local events, parents and teachers will brace for the proposed cuts. Debbie Carroll, a PTA member, is one of them.
"To think the most drastic cuts will be to JFK, a school that only 16 months ago," Carroll said. "It's just mind-boggling."
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