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Norwood-Norfolk Board of Education faces more concerns about proposed cuts

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NORFOLK - For the second time in as many weeks, the Norwood-Norfolk Central School Board of Education meeting drew a full house Tuesday night as community members, teachers and graduates shared their concerns about two proposed cuts in the 2014-15 budget.

School officials have proposed a number of ways to whittle down what currently sits as a $632,000 gap in their budget, and among them is the elimination of eight full-time equivalent positions, which includes core teachers, support staff and academic intervention services. That move would save $498,000.

Also on the chopping block are two teaching assistant positions that audience members spoke in support of during the public comment portion of the meeting. Speakers noted that the individuals not only provided struggling students with academic intervention services, but were also there on a personal level for them.

Gary Dunkelberg, a 2009 graduate, said the assistance provided to him by the teaching assistants kept him in school.

“Knowing they might be gone is wrong. If it wasn’t for the program, I would have dropped out,” he said.

Parent Theresa Clemmo asked board members to keep the students in mind as they faced difficult decisions.

“Please be mindful of your responsibility for supporting the district’s mission statement,” she said.

The district’s mission statement reads, “The Norwood-Norfolk Central School community will prepare all students to be successful in the 21st Century by engaging them in challenging learning environments that meet the highest academic, social and ethical standards. Students will be empowered to achieve their full potential as creative, purposeful lifelong learners, who strive for academic success, responsible citizenship and well-being in a collaborative, diverse and dynamic learning community.”

Ms. Clemmo said the two teacher assistants provided services that were mandated under the Americans With Disabilities Act, but also “provide more than academic support,” bonding with the students on a personal level. Their support, she said, helps students succeed many times when other teachers are available.

She suggested that rather than cutting positions, concessions should be made by unions on salaries and benefits. Ms. Clemmo said she worked at SUNY Canton and her health care contributions have increased dramatically.

“Has the board considered increasing employee contributions,” as well as negotiating smaller or no salary increases?” she asked. “An increase in employee contributions is much more relevant to the budget than elimination tof hose two AIS positions.”

Also on hand for Tuesday’s meeting were Steve and Regina Fisher, who have been trying to convince district officials to allow their son, who recently earned his general equivalency development, to walk across the stage in June with the rest of his graduating classmates.

Mrs. Fisher said academic intervention services might have helped their son graduate with a diploma rather than a GED. But, she said, they were told he fell through the cracks.

“Why are we taking a gamble by taking away more? Imagine how many kids will fall through the cracks if we lose these two. We need to start functioning as a community that’s working for our children. That’s what schools were made for in the beginning. We have the abilities in our schools to make sure our kids are becoming productive and not sitting at home on disability,” Ms. Fisher said.

Her husband presented the board with a petition that had more than 120 signatures of those who supported their son graduating with the rest of his classmates in June. He said he would continue to gather signatures until a decision is made.

“Hopefully it (the decision) will be the right one,” Mr. Fisher said.

He also noted the bond between struggling students and the teaching assistants.

“These teachers that take care of that part of the school, they’re more than just teachers. They’re my son’s best friend. They can go to that teacher whenever they need to. Without them they don’t stand a chance in this school. These kids depend on those people. That’s their lifeline in this school. Without them they’re nothing. They’re the last ones that need to be cut. You need to start at the to and work down, not at the bottom and work up. The decision you make affects them for the rest of their life,” he said.

“At what point do we look at administration?” teacher Michelle Crosbie wondered. “It seems like the little guy is always taking the hit. They’re working directly with students. I think it should be looked as closer.”

“We do have to take a look at what’s mandated right now,” Superintendent James M. Cruikshank said, explaining that the introduction of the Annual Professional Performance Review “is hitting administrators very hard. That’s one of the rationale (to maintaining the current administration structure).”

Teacher and Norwood-Norfolk Teachers’ Association President Michelle Brockway, speaking on behalf of the union, said the overall proposed cuts were too deep.

“The Norwood-Norfolk Teachers’ Association finds it very hard to accept that the school district will be cutting staff next year,” she said.

She said, with the proposed cuts, the teachers felt graduates would not be competitive against graduates from other schools. Ms. Brockway called the cuts “harmful and devastating to all programs” and said the NNTA’s contention twas that the “cuts and reductions were too harsh.”

She said that they were not asking the board to bankrupt the district, but asked them to look at how the cuts would affect the students.

At this point, Business Manager Lisa M. Mitras said, they’re planning to use $1.4 million from the reserves and fund balance. But even then, she said, they’re still looking at a gap of about $632,000.

Board members plan to meet on April 1 for their next budget discussion and possible approval. The spending plan must be approved by April 25.

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