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Wed., Sep. 2
Serving the communities of Massena and Potsdam, New York

Citizens turn out for second forum in Potsdam


POTSDAM - Nearly 30 concerned residents attended the second of three community forums discussing the district’s financial status and its future, discussing the district’s class sizes and how much of the fund balance should be used to balance next year’s budget.

Prior to breaking into smaller groups to discuss the evening’s topics, Superintendent Patrick H. Brady gave a brief presentation on the district’s class sizes and finances.

Mr. Brady’s presentation included class size figures for students in grades pre-kindergarten through six, where students have one classroom teacher, as well as projected numbers for next year based on the current budget proposals.

In kindergarten the district is proposing going from six classes to five. However, due to a smaller incoming class, the average class size for next is projected at 22 students. This year with six sections the average class is 21 or 22 students.

The same holds true for second grade, where a smaller class is enabling the district to cut a position without impacting class size. This year’s second graders were in classes of 22 or 23 students with next year’s projections also predicting classes of 21 or 22 youngsters.

A cut in the fourth grade though will see its average class size rise from 25 to 33 students, a number that was unacceptable with many of those present.

One group - which included two elementary school teachers, a retired teacher, a professor and a junior high teacher - felt 25 was a number they could live with.

“As a third-grade teacher, I look at the class sizes and want to scream and that’s now,” said Adrienne Hartman, who teaches in Massena. This year’s third-grade class already has class sizes of 24 and 25, with projections next year of 26 and 27, without even cutting a position.

Retired high school teacher Charles Chuna said he would rather see large classes at the high school level, where he feels students are better equipped to handle less teacher attention.

However, Thomas French, who teaches in the junior high in Massena, said students today are different than they were when Mr. Chuna was teaching.

“When I was in school, there was three TV stations and we didn’t have cell phones,” he said. “I used to catch kids smoking, but now I catch them texting. We didn’t use to have these distractions.”

Devon Shipp, a professor, noted that the class sizes in Potsdam are already above the state average.

“I think 30 students seems crazy,” he said, a statement supported by Ms. Hartman and fellow Massena elementary teacher Kelli Grewell.

“I think we’re being asked to be interventionists, as well as teachers,” Ms. Hartman said.

“We’re counselors almost dealing with issues that are brought into the classroom from home,” Mr. French said.

They noted the increase in class sizes would occur at the same time the state has imposed new teacher evaluation standards.

“It doesn’t seem fair that we’re being evaluated based on student results when they know we can’t effectively do our job with these class sizes.

“I’ve had 23 kids in a class and that’s doable?” Ms. Grewell said. “But 25?”

Ultimately the members of the group - one of several in the room - agreed class sizes should not exceed 25 students at the elementary level.

“I would agree in principle that high school classes should be a little larger,” Mr. Shipp said.

At the end of the evening though when each group issued their report one group went as far as saying classes with more than 20 students are unacceptable, something that the district is now surpassing in each elementary grade level except pre-kindergarten and first grade.

The discussion then shifted to fund balance and how much of a budget hike people would be willing to support. One group said they wouldn’t support anything that exceeds the state’s tax cap, 3.1 percent for Potsdam when exemptions are factored in to the equation.

“What concerns me about the tax cap is most people don’t understand it,” Mr. Brady said during the initial presentation, adding there’s an eight part formula used to determine each individual district’s tax cap.

“Nothing is ever easy with SED financing.”.

Mr. Brady said the district though could elect to present a budget in excess of the tax cap, however if it is defeated twice, the district would then be forced to implement a budget with no tax levy increase,.

Geoffrey Clark suggested making the cuts this year. “I think it’s time to bite the bullet now, so you don’t really have to bite the bullet down the road,” he said.

Kimberly Busch disagreed with massive cuts and said the time to use their fund balance and reserves is now, but she also noted that the district does need to be smart with how much they use.

“You need to keep some money your fund balance. You can’t drain it all in one year,” she said.

Ultimately though, the members of this group said they would be willing to support the school budget, regardless of what the district proposes.

“I voted yes on the budget when I was in labor,” Ms. Busch said, adding there was a year when she went straight from the polls to the hospital to give birth.

Ms. Busch also asked if school mergers are even seriously being considered.

High school Principal Joann Chambers overheard the question and replied, “I think people are seeing the writing on the wall in some ways, but there’s still a lot to deal with.”

Ironically the topic of the district’s third and final forum will be consolidation and mergers, a topic Mr. Brady is predicting will draw a big crowd.

“It’s likely we’ll have more people for the next forum,” he said.

The district’s final community forum will be held at 7 p.m. March 15 in the AA Kingston Middle School cafeteria.

Community members are asked to RSVP by phone at 265-2000, ext. 733, or via email at .

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