District set to slash jobs

Hudson will axe more than 45 positions if gov’s plan prevails

HUDSON–The Board of Education, following a recommendation in Superintendent John Howe’s proposed budget, voted this week to cut more than 45 positions from every sector of district employment, including teaching aids, custodians, staff and tenured instructional positions.

Other school districts in the county are also anticipating layoffs as a result of state aid cuts, including Ichabod Crane, Taconic Hills, Chatham and Germantown.

In the Hudson City School District, one of the largest in the county, the cuts, along with a 3.98% tax levy increase, will close the $3.8 million budget gap that the district faces based on anticipated revenue for the school year that begins in June.

The budget gap results from cuts in state aid in the budget proposed by Governor David Paterson coupled with annual increases in district salaries and benefits, although the new school district budget represents an overall decrease in spending of $130,000 over the current year. Last year deep cuts were averted in part because of federal economic stimulus funds. There is less federal aid available this year.

All the key players in Albany agree that there will be cuts in state aid to public education, but there is still some disagreement over the size of the cut. The state faces a budget gap of around $9 billion, and on March 22 the Democratic majority in the state Senate adopted its version of the budget, which includes the $1.4 billion reduction in school aid called for by the governor.  But Democratic leaders in the Assembly, while acknowledging that cuts will be needed, have indicated the size of the reductions will be smaller than what Mr. Paterson and the Senate propose.

The state budget is due by April 1, and though the state government has a long tradition of prolonging negotiations over the spending plan long past the constitutional deadline, critics of the cuts say such deep reductions will harm education statewide. A report by the New York State School Boards Association and the Council of School Superintendents estimates that “New York State schools are poised to lay off some 14,800 teachers if the governor’s proposed state education cuts are enacted.”

At the March 22 Hudson school board meeting board member Peter Meyer asked, “Why are we rushing to cut 50 people, when we have time to explore other options?”

Mr. Meyer presented an alternative that he called a “share-the-pain budget,” describing his plan as much less devastating to the school district, because he said it would save the jobs of an administrator and staff members and would halve the number of teacher and aids cuts. He said his approach would also allow the district to retain field trips, the Alternative Learning Program and modified sports teams.

The plan depends on incentives to get people to retire early, and on asking for and receiving a staff salary freeze and stopping busing within 1.5 miles of the school, which is allowable by state law if the public votes in favor of it in a referendum. It calls for only a 1.2% rise in tax levy instead of 3.98%.  “We have to actively pursue this, talk to the staff and the community,” he said.

Board President Emil Meister said the school board will consider the proposal. “Some of it is doable, some not,” he said.

“We are preparing for a worst case scenario. If teachers agree to a pay cut or a give-back, or if the state comes through with more money, we can restore positions,” said Mr. Howe, who said he and Mr. Meyer basically want the same thing.

In addition to personnel cuts, several people are retiring from the district. The board also made cuts in services from QUESTAR III, the regional BOCES, as well as in field trips, modified athletics and for NEMO, a teacher mentoring program that will not be funded this year. The board also reduced funding for materials and supplies.

The Alternative Learning Program, ALP, which helps students defined for various reasons as at risk, may also be transformed by a move out of its Greenport School temporary classrooms back to the High School.

As for the suggestion that teachers give up pay increases, Shannon Factor, a social studies teacher, said this week, “The media portrays us as people who don’t care. Teachers care.” Ms. Factor she said that she was in shock over the job cuts but she could not take a voluntary salary freeze to help save colleagues’ jobs because her husband is not working.

Other teachers in attendance at the meeting said they have not gotten together as a group to discuss the idea of following the superintendent’s lead in refusing to take a salary increase.

“There are other funding sources,” said Ms. Factor, who did not mention anything specific. 

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