On Monday, members of the Elba community met in the crowded auditorium of Elba Central School to discuss a controversial cost-cutting budget that will reduce the positions of seven teachers and staff members.
The proposed budget for 2015-2016 will eliminate a guidance counselor, librarian, academic intervention service (AIS) math teacher, and an English Language Learner (ELL) teacher. It will also eliminate three teaching positions in Spanish, social studies and gym.
Elba has seen a $1.5 million budget reduction since 2013.
The new program at the high school would assign one guidance counselor at the high school and use a school psychologist to assist with counseling. Some students in Spanish would have to take a French class to earn an Advanced Regents Diploma. Staff members would supervise students in the library and students would no longer be permitted to use it during Study Hall. Gym class would increase from 17 students to 25.
At the elementary level, AIS math and English would be taught by homeroom teachers and teaching assistants. The focus at the elementary school was to maintain 15 students in each class, thereby keeping class size small.
“These are hard times and we have to make some tough decisions,” Scott Kaperman, principal of Elba Elementary, said. “The budget has been developed to put the focus on your child.”
Some parents, teachers and members of the community did not agree with Kaperman’s statement.
“I thought our motto here at Elba was, ‘students first,’ ” guidance counselor Chad Agen said when he addressed the Board of Education.
Agen and the other guidance counselor, Kelly Carlie, voiced just how important their jobs are at the schools. The two of them expressed concerns about bullying, suicide threats and other mental issues that some students have. Together, they help students apply for colleges and write letters of recommendation. They are worried that one guidance counselor would not be sufficient for the needs of all the students.
One of the biggest concerns expressed on Monday was the loss of AIS teachers.
“Why do we continue to cut our support for our remedial students?” asked Julie Maderer, K-12 reading teacher at Elba. “All students do not have the same problem and AIS is not a one-size-fits-all solution.”
Parents echoed Maderer’s concerns. They also expressed fear for how the 37 ELL students will do with only one teacher to help them. Nineteen percent of Elba students are Latino or Hispanic.
Christopher Salinas, principal of the secondary school, argued that students who have special needs will always coexist with their peers and it is the school's job to prepare them for life. Parents, however, said they feel the students are all being lumped together and it isn’t necessarily fostering success.
“If you ask the parents of the kids who need help, if you ask the parents of kids who are in the middle, if you ask the parents of the kids who excel, they would all agree that something is being taken away from all of the students,” parent Lori McClurg said.