Grim-faced administrators, somber school board members and over 200 parents, teachers and community members assembled in the Hommocks Auditorium on February 2 as Superintendent Paul Fried laid out a series of budget-cutting options and recommendations.
In all, he proposed slashing $7.5 million and cutting nearly 54 positions, including 22 teachers. Though clearly unhappy with his proposals, Dr. Fried said they represented “the best of the worst.”
If adopted, the cuts would result in a budget 3% above last year’s, an increase Dr. Fried believes the community will support.
$7.5 Million Cuts: Half for Instructional Programs
Dr. Fried quickly outlined $3.7 million in cuts outside the education core (for example, insurance, field trips, and professional development) but offered more details and options when it came to cutting instructional programs. (See below for details.)
Half-Day Kindergarten Coming?
At the elementary level, Dr. Fried presented two options for cutting kindergarten and one for increasing class size at every grade. A fourth choice, going to a “Princeton Plan,” would move all students in a particular grade to one or two schools, however Dr. Fried did not believe this was viable for September.
Option A, to cut kindergarten to half-day for most students, was preferred by both Dr. Fried and by the elementary principals.
half-day K in all schools
increase class size by 2
*Each option also includes reducing 1 instructional coach, 5 special ed aides, and 5 special ed teacher assistants
Under Option A, all Mamaroneck Avenue School students would continue to have full-day kindergarten and there would be one full-day class at Central School. All incoming students who fell below benchmarks when tested in the spring would also attend a full-day program, either at MAS or Central.
Elsewhere, students would go half-day, either in the morning or the afternoon. Currently, most students attend a hybrid program with five morning sessions a week plus three afternoon sessions.
As proposed, half-day kindergarten classes would be limited to 20, not the current 22. At MAS, the limit would rise to 20 from the current 18.
In explaining her preferred option, MAS Principal Carrie Amon noted that half the entering students at MAS fall below benchmarks. Dr. Fried explained that offering full-day programs for just this half “would be in effect creating segregated classrooms” because of the large number of English language learners.
Central Principal Carol Houseknecht said the principals thought fewer students would be impacted by changes to kindergarten than by increasing class sizes again.
Class limits were already raised by two last year; raising the cap again could create classes with as many as 29 students. “We are collectively uncomfortable with that,” said Murray Principal Jennifer Monaco.
Going to half-day kindergarten would require modifying the current teachers’ contract to adjust dismissal time for the morning session.
At the Hommocks: Teams Trimmed or Eliminated?
For the Hommocks Middle School, two options were explored in depth: “super teams” for Grades 6 and 8; and “super teams” plus a modified schedule.
The preferred option, as explained by Dr. Fried and Hommocks Principal Dr. Seth Weitzman, would include super teams but not schedule changes. Class size would rise from the current 22 to 25 or 26. Grade seven, with fewer students, would keep its four-team structure.
Grades 6 and 8 would drop to three teams, with students from the “disbanded” team integrated into the other three. Two of the “new” teams would retain four sections of students at each grade level in each academic area.
The “super sized” teams would have six sections in each academic area. These teams would share an additional teacher in each academic discipline, with the extra teachers splitting their time between grades 6 and 8.
The super team configuration (Option A) would save more than $1 million, but still allow for longer blocks of academic time every day.
2 teacher assistants
10 special ed aides
plus 3.4 teachers
Another $400,000 could be saved by both reconfiguring the teams and moving from nine to eight periods in a day (Option B). However, sixth graders would lose their language survey classes, and it would be difficult to retain the longer academic blocks.
Furthermore, changing the schedule would require approval of two-thirds of the teachers.
Additional savings could be had by eliminating grade 8 teams, but that option was rejected, explained Dr. Weitzman. “Moving us back to a junior high school model is moving us back a generation,” he said.
Staffing Cuts at the High School: Will Teachers Have Time for Students?
When it came to the high school, Dr. Fried’s recommendations were to cut staff, including one teacher for reading, math, foreign language, special education and AIS reading. In addition, he proposed cutting a guidance counselor, a 0.4 business teacher (2 classes), a 0.5 psychologist, a Support Center teacher assistant and 1.5 aides. These cuts would save $861,210.
A physical education teacher could also be cut, but that would lead to class sizes larger than allowed under the current teachers’ contract.
MHS Principal Dr. Mark Orfinger expressed concern that the proposed cuts – on top of those from last year – would hit the school hard and leave teachers with less time for students. For example, English teachers would go to 117 students, well above the 80 recommended by the National Conference of Teachers of English. There would be no reading teacher left.
Althletic Cuts: Preserving Opportunities at All Levels
Dr. Fried and Bari Suman, director of athletics, recommended cuts in both staff and teams. Their proposal would eliminate the district’s three athletic curriculum coordinators and 14 program assistant coaches. Also cut would be 8 teams and 9 coaches, all in sports that now have more than 3 teams.
This plan would save $164,353 and affect around 175 students. However, it would preserve opportunities for play at all levels, from modified to varsity. (Intramural teams were eliminated in budget cuts over the past two years.)
$3.7 Million in Cuts to Non-Instructional Staff and Programs
Dr. Fried used updated information on health insurance, utilities and other expenses to calculate potential savings for non-instructional budget items. These, plus a variety of non-staffing program cuts, would yield savings of more than $3.7 million. The proposal included:
- cuts of $130,000 from professional development
- cuts of $81,000 in technology upgrades for older classroom equipment
- less for class trips, no funds for those at Hommocks (cuts $24,500; leaves $40,900)
- less for elementary Lincoln Center program (cuts $20,000; leaves $20,000)
- eliminating funds for musicals at the Hommocks and MHS ($38,400) and Pep Band ($2,000)
- eliminating 5 extra-curricular clubs at the Hommocks and 4 at MHS ($13,000)
- less for Teacher Institute (cuts $30,000; leaves $35,000) and the Larchmont-Mamaroneck Community Counseling Center (cuts $23,000; leaves $40,000)
- eliminating a total of 5.14 clerical and 2.0 custodial positions across the district ($425,548)
Immediate Reaction: Concern for Kindergarten, Special Ed, Teaching
Changes to the kindergarten raised the most comment and concern on February 2 -both during and after the meeting. Two speakers suggested the board should go for a higher tax increase in order to preserve the current program.
Some attendees questioned whether the cuts would hit special education disproportionately, despite administrators’ explanations that the recommendations were based on projected enrollments and adhered to legal mandates.
MHS teacher Kathy Donnison wondered if the school would be better served by cutting a principal (going to 3 from 4) rather than eliminating teachers. Dr. Fried rejected this idea, both to keep academics strong and “for health and safety reasons.”
The Teacher’s Union Responds
Asked for comment after the meeting, MTA President Ann Borsellino echoed Dr. Fried: “There is nothing being cut that does not hurt.”
“I do not envy the BOE facing the task of deciding which cuts will hurt less,” she stated later in an email. Noting “that it’s early in the process,” she expressed hope that when Dr. Fried revisits his options, “he’ll discover some viable alternate cuts. I believe there are still possibilities that don’t affect students.”
She acknowledged, however, that teachers realize there may be fewer teachers and larger classes.
Ms. Borsellino did not comment on possible contract concessions from the union.
What Comes Next?
February 2 was only the beginning, stressed Dr. Fried and Linnet Tse, president of the school board. Other options may arise at the next budget workshop on Tuesday February 9. (Check the district website for updates on time and place.)
And future proposals may be shaped by community feedback. Already, parents of pre-school children are expressing concern about the kindergarten cut-backs in emails circulating through the district.
PTA leaders at all levels are encouraging everyone to accept the board’s invitation to speak up, either at the February 9 meeting or by emailing email@example.com. “People should come out and be heard,” said Joan Capaldi, PTA co-president for Chatsworth School. “Now is the time.”