WESTFIELD - As final budget decisions draw closer, the Westfield school community is sharing its opinion.
At the Westfield Academy and Central School's Board of Education meeting on Monday, March 12, the room filled with adults and students alike. The students were wearing matching t-shirts reading "Music matters. Save WACS music" on the front.
"We appreciate the great attendance tonight," Interim Superintendent Margaret Sauer said. "We don't often have a full house and we're glad you're here and you're taking an interest."
Due to a shrinking enrollment, loss of government aid and increased expenses, WACS is looking at cuts to the 2012-13 school year's budget totaling over $700,000. With the new tax cap law in place, Business Manager and District Clerk Al Holbrook has calculated the most the district could increase property taxes by this year without needing a supermajority vote is 2.58 percent, or $136,708. Of the 28 budgets Holbrook has been a part of at WACS, he said this was by bar his most difficult.
"Between the declining revenues and the increase in costs and the inability to raise property taxes, ... we're very limited," Sauer said. "And the only answer is that we need to make significant cuts."
Over the last three months - every Monday since January - the administrative team has gone over each line item in the budget, she said, with the approach of not cutting entire departments, but instead taking a little from each.
"None of them we want to make," Sauer said. "It hurts terribly to have to do this. ... It's really with a lot of regret, because I was here at our growth time, that I'm in a position now coming out of retirement to do just the opposite and cut a lot of the programs that are important to all of us here," Sauer said. "But there is no way to cut over $700,000 from the budget without doing that. It's just not possible.
The hope is to restore those things being cut when and if the district can afford to do so in the future. The district is in for two difficult budgets, but the hope is a consolidation with at least one neighboring school district in the third year will bring incentive aid which the combined district would receive for 14 years.
"We would not only get back what we're losing in the next two years, but we would be able to make them even better, enhance them," Sauer said.
Since the school is still negotiating with multiple unions and individuals regarding contracts and the state still has not passed a final budget detailing state aid for education, cuts to the budget are not set in stone and are subject to change should more revenue become available. The cuts being proposed are as follows:
Elementary school - 28.4 percent of total cuts
Teacher to teaching assistant in elementary computer lab - $34,006
Elementary teacher with increased class size - $60, 839
Two universal pre-kindergarten classes (operating costs) - $72,000
Certified art teacher (0.5 Full time equivalent reduction) - $35,750
Certified physical education teacher (0.5 FTE reduction) - $34,970
Middle and high schools - 23.6 percent of total cuts
Textbooks for Jamestown Community College credit courses - $790
SAT prep - $920
Graduation gaps and gowns - $750
North Lake field rental reduced - $150
Foreign language teacher (French, reduced to 0.33 FTE) - $12, 477
Certified physical education teacher (0.25 FTE reduced) - $14,255
Social studies elective class(es) (0.5 FTE reduced) - $25,498
Science elective class(es) (0.5 FTE reduced) - $23,826
Career and technology elective class(es) (0.5 FTE reduced) - $24,820
Music elective class(es) (1.0 FTE reduction) - $54,401
Interscholastic athletics (22 percent reduction) - $40,177
District wide - 48 percent of total cuts
Adult and continuing education (will be self-sustaining) - $1,540
Field trips (50 percent reduction) - $7,800
Classroom equipment (50 percent reduction) - $29,112
Classroom supplies (10 percent reduction) - $15,000
Department and grade level chairpersons eliminated - $33,840
Maintenance/repair costs reduction - $49,000
One school nurse - $52,658
Co-curricular programs (25 percent reduction) - $11,453
Reduced clerical summer hours for four staff - $7,000
Custodial staff reductions (60 percent reduction in overtime and reduction of one vacant position) - $84,472
Staff conferences, travel and meetings (50 percent reduction) - $11,325
BOE conferences, travel and meetings (20 percent reduction) - $2,000
In addition, the district is looking at reducing what it pays for BOCES services by $96,241 by eliminating career choices software, cooperative purchasing, the central business office and school and societal coordination and reducing library services, technology purchases and one day of on-site technicians.
Elementary Principal Paula Troutman spoke about the changes to the schedule which would need to take place to facilitate the reduction in physical education teachers while still meeting mandated requirements. Sauer said the reduction of an elementary teacher would be in the grade level with the smallest amount of students, probably second, and the reduction in foreign language classes would result in WACS students having Spanish as their only option. However, she did say those in French 2 this year will be able to take French 3 next year in order to finish their sequence.
In terms of the elimination of a music teacher, "We don't see this as a disastrous change," Sauer said. "We have in mind that we would still offer a great deal of music in our school. We still are offering a lot more than is required. We have more teachers than most districts our size."
Athletic Director Jake Hitchcock detailed the cuts which would be made to the district's athletic program. In addition to the three sports WACS currently shares with other districts - football, wrestling and swimming - Westfield's golf team would be sent to Chautauqua Lake Central School while its tennis team would be sent to WACS, saving around $3,625. The seventh and eighth grade boys and girls basketball teams will be turned into an intramural program, the number of paid chaperones will be reduced by one for football, basketball, soccer and volleyball games, the number of scorer/timers and shot clocks for basketball games will change and $2,500 will be eliminated from the supplies and equipment fund. Some other small cuts include one paid assistant varsity football coach, the football movies position and the athletic director clerical position stipend.
The largest cuts would be eliminating junior varsity volleyball, baseball and softball. Student athletes who would have been on the junior varsity teams would have the opportunity to try out for the varsity team instead. This would result in a savings of $12,505.
When it came time for public comment, adults and students alike shared their feelings with the board. One audience member said it was difficult to see cuts to programming and staff while continuing to see pay increases, but most of the comments were in regards to the elimination of a music teacher.
"We just need to keep this music program as good as it is," student Iain Cockram said.
"I don't see how cutting teachers is helping the student body whatsoever," student Alec Freyn said. "Each teacher here has put in their hours to help students achieve the best that they can be."
"I understand the need to make cuts and the need to be fair, at the same time we have to be cognizant of what might draw people here," parent Don Wood said, noting he moved his family to Westfield because of the music program at WACS. He also suggested sharing Westfield's music program in a similar fashion to how WACS shares its sports.
"Everyone needs to look at what we can do," parent Brenda Backus said, adding problems can be solved by talking it through.
Student Don Wood III told the board students he has spoken to are the most upset over teachers being cut and also that they prefer a merger with Ripley and Brocton over a regional high school.
Student Mackenzi Habig said the elective classes being cut are the ones which give students an edge getting into college. Another student said WACS is known for its music, adding, "If you take that away, what will we have?"
Kim Knappenberger, parent of five, said she was glad to see the suggestion to cut caps and gowns and SAT payments and suggested pushing the legislature to allow for students to pay to play sports. Another parent said her greatest concern is the music program and if WACS loses its edge, there will not be a reason for her to send her kids there.
Substitute nurse Jan Snow spoke up in regards to the cut of a full time nurse. She brought up many statistics on WACS students with health issues as well as instances in which having only one nurse at WACS could cause difficulties or lead to liabilities.
"It is humanly impossible for one nurse to take care of all the students in your school safely every day," Snow said.
"Think outside the box," parent Maria Resnick said, noting her son befriended the nursing staff during a tough year, and she suggested a pension freeze.
Many in the audience left after the first public comment session, momentarily interrupting the meeting, and thus were not there when Edwards responded to their statements during board commentary. All programs are important, she said, but the district is faced with having less children and a shrinking pot of money. She also said she knows the impact teachers have on children and pointed out that the only option available when cutting teachers is seniority.
"It is by no means the measure of a teacher's success or the merit of the programs," Edwards said.
She challenged the community to stand together and look deeper and encouraged those with suggestions or fears to step up and help by running for a seat on the Board of Education. With the resignation of Tony Pisicoli last month, at least one of the five board seats on the May ballot is open.
In this board commentary, Vice President Steve Cockram brought up that high school chorus and band are the two most popular electives at WACS and said he would argue it has the best small music program in the state. He asked the administration to see what else could be done as an alternative to "cutting a leg out of a stool."