The Port Chester School District will offer full-day kindergarten next year, opposed to cutting it to half-days, as was previously announced at the March 8th Board of Education meeting in hopes of clearing the district’s $2.1 million deficit.
The decision came this week after the district’s Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) workers and administrators have reduced their health care plan to just one option opposed to the three previously offered. That resulted in the district saving $344,000, said Schools Superintendent Edward A. Kliszus at Thursday’s Board of Education meeting at the Port Chester Middle School.
At the meeting, Kliszus went over an update on the proposed school budget for next year, which will be voted on May 15, and talked about how the district came to reversing its original proposal, which would’ve cut full-day kindergarten.
The money saved from the health care plan reduction combined with $150,000 for new enrollment projections for next year netted the district nearly $500,000 that wasn’t there on the March 8th meeting. The initial proposal also called for the cutting of the John F. Kennedy Magnet School Early Learning Center, which Kliszus costs $1.7 million.
“There is nothing else in the district that has that kind of cost that’s not mandated that can be cut,” he said Thursday night.
Kliszus added that people have suggested cutting things like athletics, marching band or even AP courses, all of which he said wouldn’t bring in that much money.
“If we’re really talking about an opportunity for our children to go to college, they need to have extracurricular activities, like the music, like the clubs. They need their AP courses,” he said. “You can’t eliminate those programs. It would do incredible damage that would take a generation to repair, if you could repair it.”
Board member Carolee Brakewood said people have approached her in recent weeks asking why the board isn’t cutting sports, or cutting art, or music, or any number of other programs.
“It feels like I am being asked, ‘Why aren’t you chopping off your arm instead of your leg?’” she said. “The truth is, I’d like to keep all of my limbs intact. We have no choice but to cut something substantial in order to stay within the tax levy cap.”
She said the board and administration has to ask themselves a variety of questions, including “Which area is deep enough in staffing to generate enough savings to alleviate the deficit? Which area could possible be restored if funds become available? Are there any programs that are unevenly distributed across the district? And which areas, if cut, might launch a community backlash so severe as to risk causing the entire budget to go down?”
Kliszus said the key was to look for “non-mandated big-ticket” programs to cut, and with the additional funds secured, the board challenged him to go back and see what could be cut to save full-day kindergarten, a top priority for the board.
“It’s been restored as a top priority because of its critical nature and critical need in educating our children,” Kliszus said. “Early childhood is absolutely critical.”
The solution proposed in the budget now is to cut the reading support services program, which contains 8-14 teachers who help students struggling read by working with them in smaller groups.
“That’s a program that’s not mandated, unfortunately, and took the place of the full-day kindergarten,” Kliszus said.
He added that the board isn’t cutting reading from the curriculum, as all teachers teach reading no matter what discipline they teach. They’re merely cutting the reading assistant program, which he referred to as “auxiliary or ancillary.”
Kliszus said that if the district receives state aide, they could bring back the reading support program, which they would not be able to do had they cut the kindergarten. While updating the budget process, Kliszus said the cuts are determined using a team approach consisting of administration and the Board of Education. The administrators bring recommendations to the board.
As of Thursday’s meeting, the proposed cuts for next year’s budget are:
- 8-14 reading positions across grades K-12
- BOCES Collaborative High School Program, which includes a math teacher, teacher aide, transportation and tuition
- transportation reduction
- elementary science teacher and teacher assistant
- clerical position resulting from retirement that won’t be filled
The next step is the board will vote on whether or not to adopt the proposed budget at its April 19th meeting, followed a budget hearing at the May 3 meeting. The public vote for the budget will take place May 15, and if that doesn’t pass, the district will have to cut an additional $1,492, 853 from its budget for next year.
“If you’ve got any sense of what we’ve been talking about for many weeks now, the budget is very tight and there isn’t much to cut,” Kliszus said.
He asked people in the crowded auditorium to think about what wasn’t cut, and what the district would have to do to clear another $1.5 million. He said they might have to put kindergarten back onto the list of programs to cut.