February 27, 2013 —
The board of the Eldred Central School District is still wrestling with how to balance the budget for the next school year, and the sports program was the topic of discussion at a workshop on February 26. A majority of the 35 residents in attendance supported the idea of cutting the sports program in order to save nearly $300,000.
However, school board president Doug Reiser, a basketball coach for 25 years, was adamantly opposed to the idea, stating that some students learn their best lessons after 2 p.m.
Following the meeting, he told The River Reporter that a school that ends at 2 p.m. only provides for half an education. He said he doesn’t want to see a mass exodus of students when the final bell rings, leaving students without an agenda.
On the other side of the issue, resident Laurie Terry said, “Don’t take out the teachers, take out the sports.” She said if there are first-grade classrooms with 28 children and no teachers’ aids, that would lead to the students not being able to read. “We want to have fully-rounded children who can read.” She concluded, “Don’t put sports above programs and extra-curricular activities.”
The residents of this small hamlet provided some ideas about how to whittle down the deficit, including kicking the furnace on two hours later than its usual start time of 3 a.m., having advanced placement students who take advantage of college courses offered at Sullivan County Community College pay their own way, and saving on the electric bill by turning lights off earlier.
Those who spoke were in largely in agreement that the $300,000 savings from putting sports on the chopping block was a better alternative than cutting programs and laying off teachers.
Reiser said that the budget is liquid and always “evolving,” and superintendent Robert DuFour reiterated those sentiments. The school board has until the third week in April to have their budget ready.
At a school board meeting on February 14, proposed cuts of four teaching assistants, 1.5 elementary school teachers, 1.5 junior-senior high school teachers and .2 psychologists sparked a barrage of tears from faculty, teachers and residents.
Cherish Galvin-Bliefernich, a remedial math teacher, gave an impassioned speech after she introduced herself as a parent, teacher and community member. She said, “We offer the best education. With this proposal, there will be 30 first graders in each classroom, and without a teacher’s assistant, they will lack the means to read on the level necessary to move ahead. The disservice you’re doing to these students is unimaginable. If you make these cuts, what will your legacy be?” she asked. “You hold the future of Eldred students in your hands.”
Residents, teachers and students alike spoke of “thinking outside the box.” Many in tears, including a half a dozen students, gave testimonials about the teachers who were proposed to be laid off and how they impacted and changed their lives for the better by their teaching methods, but perhaps more importantly, for being mentors.
One student said she came, fever and all, to laud Zita Yennia, who taught a college-level psychology course and acts as teachers’ union president. She stated that she rarely becomes emotional, but with tears in her eye, she turned to Yennia and said, “I don’t have a lot of friends in school, and you have proven to be a great friend to me.”
Superintendent Robert Dufour, who has been fighting the cuts by meeting with legislators in Albany on more than one occasion, reminded those attending that these are not final proposals, and that Albany changes its mind at least 10 times when it comes to funding for the upcoming school year.
“Nothing has happened yet,” he said with emphasis. He went on to state, “These decisions were not made by a superintendent who sits in an office,” further stating that he is a “hands-on” administrator and he has had personal friendships with the personnel he is proposing to cut.
He talked of the “out-of-the-box suggestions” put forth, such as initiating one school bus run for all students, or closing down one of the schools, as having consequences that will lead to further cuts. “For instance,” he said, “if we have one school bus run, that leaves our school bus driver with a salary cut in half.”
Jolene Porter, coordinator of athletics, said, “I know this won’t make me popular tomorrow, but none of the teachers have even proposed a salary freeze.”