By Larry Austin
Island Dispatch Editor
Just six days after the public overwhelming passed the 2018-19 budget, the Grand Island Board of Education amended the spending plan.
At Monday's meeting, the board voted 4-2 to add a $70,000 teaching position and reduce expenses in other areas.
During its budget process and upon the recommendation of district administration, the board had voted to reduce through attrition the number of sixth-grade teachers by one. Enrollment projections prompted the move. Monday, the board reversed that decision after taking into consideration comments from parents during the public comment period of the meeting.
At the May 15 budget vote and trustee election, voters approved a $62,481,712 school budget by a vote of 520 to 165 and also passed a bond resolution of $650,000 to purchase six school buses and a pickup truck, 494-184.
To get back under the budget figure passed by the public, Dr. Brian Graham said the administration recommended making up the $70,000 cost for an additional teacher by reducing expenses in professional development and eliminating plans to pave the parking lots at Huth Road Elementary School and Kaegebein Elementary School.
Board President Lisa Pyc, and trustees Rich D'Agostino, Ashli Dreher and Joy LaMarca voted to approve a resolution to maintain the current nine sixth-grade teachers for the 2018-19 school year and to hire a full-time probationary position at Huth Road Elementary School. The original budget passed had called for reducing the number of sixth-grade teachers to eight and to move one to Huth Road School to replace a teacher who is retiring. Donna Tomkins and Glenn Bobeck voted no. (Sue Marston was absent.)
Four residents, three who identified themselves as teachers in other districts and parents of Island students, spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting to advocate for retaining nine sixth-grade teachers.
Christi Ash, a parent of an upcoming sixth-grader and a teacher in another district, said, "This is a huge transition year to my child. ... Even strong students can find this transition nerve-wracking." Ash said that, as a teacher, she knows how class dynamics change as class sizes get bigger, and more students in a classroom results in more idle time. She asked the board to consider the benefit of smaller class sizes.
Karen Pax, a sixth-grade teacher at Lewiston-Porter, said she experienced the same reduction in teaching positions in her district. "I see the negative effects of larger class sizes on my students on a daily basis," she said, claiming larger classes make developing relationships with students harder for teachers.
Tomkins thanked "all the teachers speaking up" about the class sizes, but wondered where they were when the board held budget input meetings.
Tomkins said according to the class population numbers provided by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Graham during the budget process, "The class population next year is considerably smaller."
"It just saddens me that we've gone over these numbers for the last two months in our board presentation and it wasn't till after we voted on the budget that parents are now jumping up and teachers are saying that they did not know we were eliminating a position," Tomkins said.
Bobeck concurred, saying the board adopted a budget through a process that considered all options.
"We have a shrinking population of students. That's the truth," Bobeck said, pointing out the district is not "eliminating a person who works for the district," but rather reducing the staff through attrition.
Saying no one would argue against reduced class sizes being better, Bobeck said the district will have "slightly higher class sizes, maybe, because we don't know what the final enrollment will be." He advised that the board could consider adding the position later in the fall when accurate data comes in.
"And we've done that before," Tomkins said.
Pyc said waiting until the fall would be a "disservice" to families and kids.
She also said when the community speaks, "We need to take that into consideration. I don't care if that's before, during or after the budget."
Pyc said that though the district knows of the student population is declining, "We also know that we have a population that's coming in that is more needy with behaviors, emotions, with special needs."
Dreher, a teacher at Lewiston-Porter, said the board should consider that having smaller class is "very beneficial in terms of noticing these students that are struggling or needing extra help."
She favored more teachers in the classroom rather than having a teacher-on-special-assignment position for professional development.
"We need to replace a critical position that's during a transition year like sixth grade before we have a teacher-on-special-assignment," Dreher said, adding the "teacher-on-special-assignment position should be in the classroom working with students."
Bobeck said the decision set a bad precedent when "six days after adopting that budget this board decides that budget they adopted doesn't mean anything."
3 chosen for Distinguished Alumni Award
Brett Kern (Class of 2004), Stacey Schroeder-Watt (Class of 1992) and Dipak Srinivasan (Class of 1995) will be honored at the 2018 Distinguished Alumni Awards Ceremony June 1.
Kern is a Pro Bowl punter for the Tennessee Titans in the National Football League. Schroeder-Watt is chief of anesthesiology at the John R. Oishei Children's Hospital, and Srinivasan is space mission developer and implementer at the John's Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
Presentations will begin at 1 p.m. in the Grand Viking Theater of Grand Island High School.
The next regular meeting of the Grand Island Board of Education will take place at 7:30 p.m. Monday, June 11, in the Professional Development Room of Grand Island High School, 1100 Ransom Road. The meeting will be preceded by a reception for newly tenured personnel and retirees.
Board of Education Trustees
- President: Lisa Pyc
- Vice President: Donna Tomkins
- Trustees: Glenn Bobeck, Susan Marston, Richard D'Agostino, Joy LaMarca and Ashli Dreher
- Superintendent: Dr. Brian Graham
- District Clerk: Jude Kuehne