The Bedford Central School District's proposed 2013-14 budget contains an array of cuts meant to keep the district's fiscal house in order. For some, however, the reductions hit close to home.
At the school board's Wednesday meeting, speakers protested planned cuts that include elementary school librarians and a reduction of the ACES alternative program, according to a video of the event.
“We respect our district leadership and we know that tough decisions must be made," said Susan Polos, a librarian at Mount Kisco Elementary School. "Nevertheless, there are consequences to decisions, and the consequence of cutting elementary-school librarians – which has not happened in any neighboring district – is almost unthinkable.”
Polos, speaking for are fellow librarians, noted that four out of five elementary level positions are slated for cuts. She argues that while the reductions may seem expedient, there would be a negative impact on students.
“Who will provide equitable access to literature or effective direct instruction to students in finding and evaluating sources? Google may help students find information on the limited segment of the Internet that it actually does search, but then what? Google won't decide if the information is relevant, biased or authoritative or help students organize the information.”
In her remarks, Polos drew on reading for comparative purposes.
“School librarians are critical characters in Bedford's own story. As careful stewards, please know that in the next chapters is written the future of our children. Please, don't close the book on the elementary school librarians.”
Later in the meeting, Superintendent Jere Hochman was sympathetic to the librarians and praised them for their work.
“Our library media specialists are remarkable.”
However, the issue comes down to looking at doing things in another matter.
“The reality is that some things are going to have to change,” Hochman said.
The superintendent explained that while there will be four cuts, there will not be a complete drop in spending. Rather, some funds that would have been used for affected staff will be used for possible alternative ways of running the libraries. Hochman raised various possibilities for different structures, including having other staff that could take on library and media roles.
Another item, the virtual elimination of the ACES alternative high school program, led to several of its worried students turning out at the meeting to express their opposition. Under the proposed budget, students from ACES, who go to an off-site location, would be brought to Fox Lane High School and included in regular classes.
“Fox Lane doesn't fit me," an 11th-grade girl enrolled at ACES said. She added that she has become more outspoken since enrolling in the program.
“If ACES were dissolved I would be devastated," said a 10th-grade female student in the program.
Providing the rationale for the consolidation, Hochman pointed out that enrollment is set to drop next year; the current number is 17, with seven slated to graduate. The next school year will serve as a chance to assess what students' needs may be, if any, for another alternative experience. Hochman also confirmed that ACES students being brought to Fox Lane will be supported.
“Non-traditional high schools are necessary," Hochman said in general. "You heard some really good reasons for that this evening.”
The cuts that brought concerned folks out are more roughly $3,884,000 in the proposed budget, which stands at $124,229,131 and will come in under the tax levy cap, which stands this year at 3.37 percent due to exemptions such as some pension costs. A total of 30.9 jobs are slated to be cut.
The district's tough decisions are being prompted, however, by a sharp rise in unfunded pension contribution mandates from the state, which will rise by about $2.8 million. Rising salaries, slated to increase by around $2.3 million and the district could start its new fiscal year, which starts on July 1, without a new contract with its teachers' union, the Bedford Teachers Association.
The budget will include cutting by half the number of modified sports, along with the number of district-sponsored clubs at Fox Lane High School and Fox Lane Middle School. In the area of music, while programs will be preserved, items such as elementary rotationals - they involve pulling students out of other classes - and individualized support will be cut. The district is eyeing, for the elementary schools, a situation where music instruction for instruments is held by a floating staff at each school on a designated day of the week; the later change will make it difficult to hold district-wide music gatherings, it was explained.
“I have to say that this is really, very painful,” School board President Susan Wollin said about the cuts.
At one point in the meeting, board members talked at length about the bigger fiscal picture and also how other items will be affected, particularly music.
Hochman noted that even if folks have concerns with cutting items, the question turns to what else is there to cut. Some items being considered for reductions this year, he explained, are more severe than before.