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Concession From Teachers’ Union Helps District Shrink Budget Gap

OSWEGO, NY – Oswego School Superintendent Bill Crist meticulously laid out some of the potential cuts in the 2011 – 2012 school budget at Tuesday night’s meeting of school board members.

The meeting was attended by about five dozen parents, teachers and students, several of whom presented convincing arguments as to why the district should reconsider many of its tentative reductions.

“The process is painful,” the superintendent said, adding that they want come up with a budget that includes as much as possible and at the same time is something the community can support and afford.

One thing that is helping district officials finish off the proposed spending plan is a pay freeze that the teachers’ union agreed to earlier this week, he added.

The Oswego Classroom Teachers’ Association agreed to a one-year extension of its current pact with the district, which includes a pay freeze for next year (and isn’t retroactive), the superintendent announced.

According to Crist, this puts $88,000 back into the school district’s budget.

“God bless them,” exclaimed board member Fran Hoefer as he joined with the rest of the board and audience applauding the union’s decision.

“I see something immensely positive going on in this district. I see staff that’s willing to work harder for the same amount of money. I see people that I have seen as mortal adversaries becoming allies in a common cause. We have to work together because we all love our children and you know something, I think we’re starting to. We are losing kids right now. We are losing money; we don’t have the money to do what we want. But you guys are doing more, God bless you for it. Thank you. We can probably save some of these programs because of what you guys are willing to do and I thank you for it,” he continued. “You know what I’m talking about. God bless you. We can save a lot of these programs because of what you did and what you’re doing.”

It could mean a savings of more than a million dollars in programs for the students, board vice president and chair of the finance committee John Dunsmoor said.

Board president Dave White pointed out the CSEA cut its incoming salary by 20 percent (for the past nearly 12 years).

“There was a tremendous savings there,” he said.

The superintendent explained the cuts are needed to help the district come up with an acceptable budget during these troublesome financial times.

Areas targeted for cuts include athletics, security, theater, driver’s education, an assistant principal position, teachers, librarians, staff and some programs. It would mean that, in many cases, others would have to step up and handle an increased workload.

The New Visions program is also on the chopping block.

The changes would also mean a decrease in some elective classes and an increase in students in study halls at the high school.

Several members of the audience told the board that while saving money, the proposed cuts could actually hurt students.

Patricia Runeri, the social studies team leader at the high school, said that if the cuts were implemented that 124 and 174 students wouldn’t be able to take a course in the social studies department.

“Students need a certain number of electives to graduate. We have graduation requirements that go beyond required classes. I am seriously concerned as to whether or not that would be attainable by our students if all the electives are cut that you are talking about,” she told the board.

OHS librarian Gina Iorio cautioned the board that if her position is cut and the librarian position shared between the high school and middle school, the high school library would be closed three times a week.

In February alone, 1,600 students “just from study hall” visited the media center, she said, adding that was a short month that also included a one-week winter break.

OHS Principal Brian Hartwell pointed out that by cutting electives would force more students into study halls. And it’s possible the number of study halls could increase to a point where the school day would have to be restructured at OHS.

If study halls increased 15 to 20 percent, it would mean going from 51 study halls to around 65, he said.

Lori Broadway-Vega, a foreign language teacher, encouraged the board not to take options away from the students.

The team leader for the foreign language department  at the Oswego City School District pointed out to the board the effects of what a loss of 1.6 language teacher cuts would have on students in the district and the fact that nearly 1,000 students over the last five years have taken levels 4 and 5 in their respective language classes.

With these cuts, and not offering levels 4 and 5, these 200 students (on average per year) will now have no language study for two years right before entering college, she explained.

This will hinder their college careers because now they will no longer be able to test out of the language requirement nor will they be able to test into a high level language course which could have saved them and their parents money on their collect expenses in the long run, she continued.

“It’s not fair,” she said.

Rachelle Moree spoke in support of the single family and consumer science position, that if cut would mean the elimination of the entire program.

“I’m one of Mrs. (Cheryl) Irwin’s students and every single one of her courses have helped me out a lot. Being a parent and I’m also graduating this year, she taught me how to cook so I can feed myself. Her clothing and textiles class taught me how to make my own clothes; her parenting class gave me parenting information and she has taught me how to look for an apartment and speak to a landlord,” she said. “A lot of my peers who take her classes really like it because it is fun and she teaches us how to interact with each other, we can act like adults and have our place in the world.”

The clothing and textile class counts toward the students’ art credit, which is a requirement for graduation, Irwin added.

Deb Smith from the English department approached the issues from “a kid angle.”

“I’m a junior in high school … I can’t take French 4, I can’t take Spanish 4. I have all these study halls; I can’t take additional English, like poetry, to enhance me at all. No additional social studies and you just screwed me out of AP (Advanced Placement). I can’t do anything with New Visions, I can’t do anything in consumer science to get real world skills,” she said. “I can’t go to the library because today is the day she is at the middle school.”

“Instead, this is what I have to look forward to – there might be 63 study halls during any given day at the high school; 63 study halls in a nine-period day is seven to eight study halls per class period. Some rooms only hold 30 kids; some of those rooms in a study hall hold 80 kids. One teacher, 80 kids – oh, I am gonna get a lot of work and studying done in there,” she continued. “I am wasting my time. Educate me, educate me, give me options.”

An OHS senior was moved to tears advocating for the librarian position.

“I don’t get it. I really don’t,” she said. “I think it’s crazy to have just one librarian between two schools. I really do.”

Yolanda Izzo-Breitbeck doesn’t believe making cuts is always the correct route.

“I really feel that we’re just going backwards. We keep going backwards,” she said. “I know we have to cut. But I think some times we go about it the wrong way and we hurt our kids. The bottom line is we hurt our kids.”

“I know that we have to make cuts, I know that this is a difficult time,” added Jim Jackson representing the district’s CSEA workers. “But, I think we’re heading down the wrong road and it’s only going to get worse and worse and worse because of some of the decisions that are getting made and some of the cuts that are being made.”

“We have to understand one thing; nobody wants to lose anything. But, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we got some problems,” White said. “Our problems are all financial. No matter how we figure this out – somebody’s gonna lose. We owe it to people that we have to curtail some of the things that we’re doing. Somewhere along the line, something’s gotta go.”

“Every year I’ve looked at cutting, cutting, cutting (at budget time),” said board member Sam Tripp. “That isn’t what I came here to do. I want to make this a great school district.”

He said he won’t support cuts that hurt students in the classroom. He encouraged district officials to “look at positions in this building (Education Center) and look at directors and whatever positions there are in this building that we can live without, and I’m going to support that. We are all up against it and the only way we’re going to get out of this is if we pull together. We’re going to make sacrifices. I can’t sit here and say we’re going to give you everything you’ve asked for but we’ll do the best we can.”

There are some restorations possible as the budget process moves ahead, Crist said.

“Some of them are some of the things that were discussed and spoken of very eloquently and very passionately by members of the audience this evening,” he said.

He gave a list to board members to consider and discuss at the next meeting.

The proposed 2011-12 budget is $74,378,646. That’s $445,000 less than the current year’s budget, Crist said.

The budget gap currently is approximately $23,000, he said, adding it is the board’s prerogative to use money from the fund balance to close the gap.

The board will continue its budget discussion next Tuesday and the superintendent is schedule to present his final budget proposal on March 22.

2 Comments

  1. I am usually the first to come and say something negative about the Oswego public school system but I give kudos to anyone who was involved in negotiating the wage freeze for OCTA and I give kudos to the teachers for accepting it. This is truly something positive for the kids.

    However the school district still needs to do what it needs to do to make the cuts and I hope they will not be swayed by the speakers.

    I hope we continue to move in this direction with sacrifices. As we all know, the catalyst for the budget problems year after year are the employee health and pension benefits. While a wage freeze is a good step forward, I will not throw a parade for OCTA until they make serious concessions on their fringe benefits. That would do wonders for our children in the longterm.

  2. I agree with Sam Tripp. It is time for administrative cuts.

    I am confident that the children would not be worse off if the “Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction” was eliminated.

    It was previously suggested to eliminate the “Assistant Superintendent for Personnel and Human Resources” and to instead contract out the hiring. This would be one great opportunity to consolidate with other school districts in the county. All 9 school districts could share a very small personnel department instead of paying one individual 6 figures plus an entire staff.

    The “Director of AIS/Data Management.” HUH???? What, if anything, does this individual do? I do hear that Bill Crist has proposed cutting this position and I hope this is true.

    “Assistant Director of Special Programs.” Why an assistant?

    Directors of Mathematics and Literacy. Yes, I see why we need strong mathematics and literacy programs in place. However with all these directors of this and that, what is left for the building principals to do? Why can’t our principals work a little bit harder and take on the mathematics and literacy for their own buildings?

    The administrators sure love their conference travel, too. Perhaps they should resign and become flight attendants if they want to take endless trips. But in the meantime, the school board should allow for zero funding for these relaxing retreats. Perhaps if the administrative staff actually spent some time at work, we wouldn’t need quite so many of them.

    There are so many opportunities for some high dollar cuts to the school budget. Bill Crist damn well won’t propose them, so the school board needs to take it in their own hands. The school board is in charge here, not Mr. Crist.

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