Community voices concerns on ICC budget cut plan

KINDERHOOK – It was another full house at the Tuesday evening roundtable budget meeting at Ichabod Crane Central Schools. The board heard from staff, parents and students about proposed cuts in staffing and programming for the 2010-11 school year. The proposed budget is now $37 million.

The March 9 meeting, which would normally have been held in the Middle School library, was moved to the cafeteria to accommodate the large crowd. Sitting at the front of the group, using microphones, board members talked about the hard decisions they needed to make in this coming school year’s budget and how much they appreciated hearing from community members.

“As difficult as some of these decisions will be… we will still be committed to students,” said Board President John Phillips. Mr. Phillips was the target of many of the audience members’ comments early in the meeting because of comments he made at the last meeting about the need to make some changes in the special education program. Mr. Phillips suggested in a letter he read parts of at March 2 meeting that the district should cut the position of director of special education and look at the percent of students classified as needing special education.

Several school psychologists, special education teachers and parents got up to speak in support of the district’s special education program. Many of the staff members mentioned the federal and state mandates that schools must follow. “We need to follow federal law,” said Ingrid Monaghan, a special education teacher. She, as many others did, took issue with Mr. Phillips comment that students may be getting over-diagnosed. “Kids are not being identified for being rambunctious or being shy,” said Ms. Monaghan.

“Mr. Phillips’ comments are his own,” said board member Bruce Naramore. “No formal proposal [has] been brought to this board today,” he said, referring to the fate of the position of director of special education. The proposed budget does include the elimination of several special education teaching positions and teaching assistants.

Director of Special Education Robert McCloskey, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said that because of the planned loss of staff he would be “looking at how we group some of those teaching assistants and group students together.”

Parents and students also came out to support the music program, which faces one staff cut and possibly elimination of the marching band. Parents also expressed  concerns about class sizes, which will grow if the faculty is cut.

Schools Superintendent James Dexter said that the district was looking for “out-of-the-box” thinking to save some programs.

Asked whether teachers would forgo raises to save some positions, Mr. Phillips said the board had reached out to the district’s four unions.

Mr. Dexter said the union for administrators and the one for school nurses had said they would have that conversation with the board, but the teachers union and the union for transportation workers said no.

There was also talk about taxes. The school proposed budget right now carries a 2.5% tax levy increase. Board Vice President Andrew Kramachyk said, “a 1% increase in the levy could restore $190,000.” He also pointed out that “we are only in the first year of what is going to be a two-year hit” in proposed state aid cuts.

The board plans to have two more budget meetings, March 23 and 30. Both meetings will be at 7 p.m. in the Middle School. The district website, www.ichabodcrane.org, has a detailed explanation of the proposed budget.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .

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