Teachers, schools chief clash over cuts

ICC board adopts $38M spending proposal

KINDERHOOK–The Ichabod Crane Board of Education approved a $38,133,987 proposed school budget for 2016-17 at a special meeting Tuesday. Several district teachers and parents came to the meeting to express their concern over job cuts for recess and lunch monitors in the Primary and Elementary schools that are part of the proposed budget.

Schools Superintendent George Zini addressed those concerns in his budget presentation at the April 19 meeting saying that the cuts had “caused a stir in the community.” He said that he put the $46,000 for monitors in the budget three years ago to free up teachers during those periods to work with students. Over the years, teachers have used that time to have grade level meetings as well.

“I did not say the time was wasted,” said Mr. Zini. He did say the time was not used as he intended.

He also said that the teachers would have to cover the lunch and recess duties once a week for 30 minutes and that the $46,000 would be moved into the budget line for substitute teachers.

“I don’t think it’s a prudent use of district money,” he said of funding the six monitors.

Parents and teachers spoke about the importance of having the monitors in the lunchroom and how valuable it is for teachers to have that time to work with students and with fellow teachers.

Others pointed out that the budget is not as tight as it has been in recent years since the district received the full restoration of Gap Elimination Aid, which the state had been withholding for several years. That restored $923,896 to the budget, bringing the amount of state aid for the district back to where it was in 2009, according to Mr. Zini.

“Why cut now?” was the question primary school teacher and teacher’s union President Karen Vecellio read from a statement prepared by elementary school teacher Christopher Soulia.

One hundred thirty-five teachers signed a letter sent to the board about the cuts. The letter asked board members before they approve the proposed budget to “consider both the student needs that are being met through the use of this time, as well as the impact on the lives of the individuals whose positions are being eliminated.”

“The elimination of these monitors negatively impacts these teachers, and the time they have to interact with their students and their colleagues,” the letter reads.

“We’re short sighted cutting $46,000 from a $38-million budget,” said Matthew Jones, the parent of a primary school student.

Board members Regina Rose and Michael Stead both expressed concerns about the cuts. Ms. Rose also had issues with the lack of board participation in creating budget. “I am losing my confidence in the budget process,” she said, saying that seeing the final budget two weeks before this meeting did not give the board enough time to review it.

She also said that the board was never consulted on whether they would want to override the very low tax levy increase set by the state. This year the board can only increase the tax levy by 0.67% unless they get a supermajority of voters (60% or more of those voting) to approve a budget with a higher increase.

“I don’t think we’d have support to take a big leap,” said board member John Antalek, responding to the prospect of having the budget approved by 60% of voters.

Mr. Zini also pointed out that if the district does not stay within the state tax cap homeowners will not get a $185 refund check from the state. To qualify for that refund the household income has to be less than $200,000 and have a STAR exemption.

Board member Cheryl Trefzger said that she supported the budget and didn’t believe that teachers would stop working with students during lunch just because they have to do recess/lunch duty once a week.

“Things can be altered,” she said of the budget.

Six board members, including Mr. Stead, voted in favor of the proposed budget. Ms. Rose abstained and board members Anthony Welcome and Tracy Farrell were not at the meeting.

The annual vote will be held Tuesday, May 17. Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the high school gymnasium. There will also be a bus purchasing proposal on the ballot to acquire four buses at a cost of $394,297.

Four candidates are running for three open seats on the board, as well. Mr. Stead and Mr. Welcome are running for reelection. Matthew Nelson and Jeffrey Ouellette are running for the board. There will be a budget hearing and meet the candidates night on Tuesday, May 10 at 7 p.m.

Mr. Zini’s budget presentation is available on the district website at www.ichabodcrane.org.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .

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