Herricks board revises budget

Herricks board revises budget

The Herricks Board of Education has restored approximately $1 million to its proposed 2011-12 school budget, a 2.77 increase over the current year and a tax levy hike between 4.5 percent and 4.77 percent.

In a board meeting Thursday, the board presented a revised budget that restored the salaries of a music teacher ($100,000), a teaching position in the Gemini program for gifted elementary school students ($100,000), special education positions ($140,000) computer lab assistants ($152,000) and two teaching positions in the English as a Second Language program ($200,000).

“All these issues, what they come down to is our value system,” said Dr. Sanjay Jain, a member of the Herricks board. “Ultimately it will be our value systems that will form the budget. Why are we choosing some programs over others?”

Herricks Superintendent of Schools John Bierwirth had originally presented a 2 percent budget at the board’s request. It called for cutting two music teacher in the middle school and high school, two Gemini teaching positions, three ES: teaching positions, five special education teachers and four computer lab teaching assistants.

The revised budget proposal also restored $175,000 to the athletics budget, $10,000 for a high school drama production and $25,000 for eighth graders to take a trip to Boston. The original budget called for cutting $250,000 from the athletics budget with the elimination of several teams from the middle school and high school as part of it.

At the time Bierwirth presented his plan to hold the increase to 2 percent, he also presented an alternative plan to preserve all existing programs, which called for a 7.65 percent increase in spending.

After conferring with the district’s sports boosters and coaches, board president Christine Turner said a possible solution to eliminating teams would be to impose a charge for each student athlete.

“Perhaps if your child is playing a sport, we could charge $40 or $50,” Turner said.

She proposed a similar solution to make up for the proposed $90,000 in cuts for extracurricular clubs in grades K through 12.

“Rather than see it cut, I’d rather see the activities for kids,” she said.

Bierwirth suggested that the board allow him to “work up the numbers” with the booster and the coaches.

In response to a question one resident asked about whether parents could raise money to fund a Gemini teaching position, Bierwirth said there is no legal prohibition against the school district accepting funds for that purpose.

“But it’s a lot of money for people to raise,” he said.

Turner announced earlier in the meeting that the board had rejected a proposal from the Herricks Teachers Association for $750,000 in givebacks in next year’s in exchange for a guarantee of no layoffs.

Board vice president Richard Buckley said he was “flabbergasted” by the idea that residents could donate funds to the district to fund a teachers’ salary.

“If funds are granted to the school district, they can be used for personnel,” Bierwirth said, explaining the school district can accept grants earmarked for a specific program or other purpose.

Board member Peter Grisafi said permitting the private funding teaching positions is a “slippery slope” for the school district.

“We’re destroying the public school system and eventually a quality education will be a private system,” he said.

Jain said the choices the board makes about the budgets reflect the school district’s values.

In the public portion of the meeting, residents were passionate in defending school programs.

“When we cut off a limb, let’s not cut out the heart of our school district,” Maria Paciullo said. “I am here to advocate for the Gemini program. My son needs this program.”

One woman, who said she had one child still in the school and two who had been graduated from it, said she would be willing to pay extra to maintain Herricks’ exemplary music program as it is. And she offered a testimonial to the Gemini program.

“My middle one is studying to be a civil engineer and that’s directly related to him building bridges in Gemini,” she said.

“Let’s not ruin any programs,” parent Chris Michelen said.

Jonai Singh, a co-president of the Herricks PTA Council and a school board candidate, spoke in support of the district’s extracurricular programs.

“People have moved to this district because it has more than academics to offer,” she said. “All of these after school activities make it what it is.”

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