Manhasset students, TAs resist district’s cutting of teaching assistants

Manhasset students, TAs resist district’s cutting of teaching assistants
The Manhasset Union Free School District is planning for staffing cuts amid rising costs putting financial pressures on the district's budget next year. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The Manhasset School District proposed cutting a number of teaching assistants to mitigate financial pressures impacting its budget next year, but students, teaching assistants and parents continued to push back on the proposal.

The Manhasset Board of Education discussed the district’s preliminary budget for the 2024-2025 school year Thursday night. This was the second informal budget hearing the district has held.

“These TAs are lifelines for some students and without these TAs who is going to ensure kids with disabilities get safely on the bus and get safely home?” a student asked the board.

Part of the district’s budget cuts is the slashing of 14.45 full-time equivalent employees. This staff reduction would save the district $806,842 in compensation and $251,109 in health insurance expenses.

Elementary special education teaching assistants would be reduced from 24 to 14 full-time equivalent employees.

Superintendent Gaurav Passi said teaching assistants who work solely with one student would not be dropped in this proposal, and no special education teaching assistants would be cut at the secondary school.

Tina Karagiannis, who is a teaching assistant for special education students, stressed the importance of the role in ensuring these students are not left behind in classrooms. She asked that budget cuts not be made to personnel to prevent the student impact.

“We are the boots on the ground,” Karagiannis said. “We are the eyes and ears for the teachers to actually teach and do their wonderful job… We have worth in the classroom. The teachers depend on us.”

Library teaching assistants and computer lab teaching assistants at the elementary schools, which currently employ two staff members each, would be removed entirely. The single secondary library teaching assistant would also be removed.

Secondary school departmental teaching assistants would be reduced from five full-time employees to four.

“It saddens us to recommend removing teaching assistant positions to operate within the property tax cap,” Passi said. “It’s critically important to acknowledge the valuable contributions of our teaching assistants, and again I’d be remiss if I didn’t once again publicly acknowledge those contributions and, of course, acknowledge the stress of these reductions on those impacted.”

While some staff are being removed, the district will be hiring some additional teachers.

Three elementary teachers and 2.5 full-time equivalent teachers at the secondary school have been added to lower class sizes.

To aid the district, 3.5 full-time equivalent teachers on special assignments will return to the classroom and 4.1 teachers reduced based on student enrollment for certain subjects.

With the positions being cut and the addition of some, 2.1 full-time equivalent teacher positions and 12.85 full-time equivalent educational support personnel would be removed.

The proposed 2024-2025 budget amounts to $111,286,207, a 3.3% increase from the current budget.

To supplement this budget, the district will be raising taxes by 2.68%. Passi said the district made about $1 million in budget reductions to ensure staying within that tax cap.

“We have crafted a budget that manages the complexities of this year’s challenging financial environment,” Passi said.

About 75% of the budgeted expenses would go toward compensation and benefits. The remaining 25% is split between 5% for special education services, excluding compensation, and 20% for everything else.

Benefits alone amount to 25% of the budget but would be increasing by 36% from the current budget.

Overall, compensation and benefits constitute 56% of the budget increase for next year.

Special education expenses are also increasing by a little over $1 million, or a 23.35% increase.

The district’s budget is funded by three main sources of revenue: 90% from property taxes, 5% from state aid and 1% from the assigned fund balance. The remaining 4% comes from other sources of revenue.

But with a $629,000, or 20.7%, drop in its state aid, Passi said the district has advocated for a full reinstatement of its former state aid. He said it is unclear if this will happen as the state is still negotiating its budget and has gone past its April 1 deadline to submit a final budget.

The district’s budget assumes the former state aid amount would be reinstated. If that does not happen, Passi said the difference would be funded through its appropriated fund balance.

Passi said that despite these financial challenges, elementary programs and small class sizes will be prioritized with specialist staffing positions being maintained to deliver this.

At the secondary school, small class sizes are proposed to be maintained under next year’s budget. This is supported by additional full-time employees who will be added to the school’s staff for certain subjects.

Integrated co-teaching for students with disabilities, which combines students with disabilities and those without in the same classrooms for reading and math, will be maintained. Additional supplemental instructions are also provided for students with disabilities.

Passi said this has led to growth in student development due to additional instruction for students with disabilities.

“Our students are now receiving more instruction,” Passi said, with the addition of subject specialists on staff and the co-teaching learning model.

The board is planning to adopt its budget at its next meeting on April 16.

In other news, the board also voted to approve the recommended appointment of Laura Peterson as executive director of student services. She will be replacing Allison Rushforth, who is retiring at the end of the school year.

Peterson currently serves as the assistant superintendent for special education and student support services for the Hewlett-Woodmere Public School.

“We are thrilled to recommend her appointment for this important position in the Manhasset School District,” Passi said. “And we look forward to her leadership in the area of student services.”

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