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Percentage of Massena students on reduced lunches escalates

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MASSENA - The number of Massena Central School District students on free or reduced lunches has jumped nearly 20 percent in the last four years, according to Superintendent Roger B. Clough II.

Mr. Clough presented the district’s $46 million 2012-2013 spending plan to approximately two dozen members of the Massena Senior Citizens Club Wednesday afternoon. The budget, which voters will approve or reject on May 15, carries a 2.9 percent tax levy increase for property owners.

It includes no cuts this year and adds a math teacher, two special education teachers, a speech teacher, a licensed practical nurse and a 0.5 full time equivalent dispatcher. It also transfers four positions to the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

When Mr. Clough began his job in 2008, approximately 32 percent of students were receiving free or reduced lunches, an indicator of poverty in a community. Since then, that percentage has risen to 51 percent of students this year, he said.

“We understand economically Massena has been hit pretty hard,” Mr. Clough told the senior citizens. “We understand that. The board understands that.

“Things are changing dramatically,” he said. “It’s not like when I went to school here or if you went to school here.”

The greater number of disadvantaged students has also brought new issues into the district, which require additional faculty, such as reading assistants and Title 1 teachers. While some of the positions are federally funded and don’t drive up the local tax levy, the changing demographics add new stresses on faculty and staff, he said.

“Our population has shifted ... We’re dealing with a lot of problems we didn’t deal with,” he said. “This isn’t the same district it was 10 years ago or 20 years ago.”

The additional challenges make many of the instructional positions all the more necessary, he said. Voters should know about those challenges as they head to the polls to approve a budget without any planned faculty cuts, he said.

Mr. Clough faced limited questions at the forum. Mary Anne Layo, a retired Salmon River School District teacher, wondered why the new positions had not been publicly advertised yet. She had seen other districts advertising positions.

“I don’t think I’m missing much. When I look, I don’t see anything,” she said.

The district first completes an internal job posting period, and will eventually be advertising for those jobs, Mr. Clough said.

“It hasn’t changed since I’ve been here,” he said. “It’s never been an issue.”

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