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Edgemont Parents Implore Board to Reconsider Cuts

EDGEMONT, N.Y. – Proposed teacher layoffs drew the ire of some of the 40-plus people who showed up at Tuesday night’s Edgemont Board of Education meeting to urge the board to find a way to not cut the positions at the secondary school level.

Edgemont School District Superintendent Nancy Taddiken formally presented her 2012-2013 budget proposal to the board and the public at the meeting, the same proposal, with some minor tweaks, she unveiled at a budget workshop session a week ago.

The proposal calls for $50,029,261 in spending, up 0.34 percent from the current year's $49,861,858. The figure is under the 2 percent New York State tax levy cap, but, because of a quirk of the calendar, lower-than-expected tax receipts in the 2011-2012 budget will be made up in the coming year, meaning that, for someone whose home is assessed at $30,000, the proposed budget would mean a $636 tax hike.

The budget proposal also includes a loss of 1.5 full-time teaching positions in kindergarten through sixth grade and 5.15 at the secondary school level. Projected enrollment decreases contributed to the teacher cuts, especially at the elementary level, Taddiken said, but the tax levy cap weighed heavily in the decisions.

“You talk about preserving the quality of an Edgemont education,  but you are about to send a fabulous young teacher out the door,” said parent Judy Seif, referring to a younger teacher who, because of seniority, will be affected instead of teachers Seiff said were more deserving of the cut. “You say you’re cutting 1.25 English teachers, but you know as well as I do that means we’re losing two teachers because nobody can afford to live on a part-time salary.” She urged Taddiken to look elsewhere, such as transportation, to make the cuts instead of teachers.

Another person questioned why, when many taxpayers have not seen a raise in the past few years, teachers are seeing a 2 percent across the board increase. Taddiken said the increase was negotiated a few years ago and could not be taken back.

Paul Christie, a parent who said he was a former union president, questioned why a salary freeze could not be put in place. “A lot of contracts are being renegotiated in the middle right now,” he said. He talked about the cuts being portrayed as having an impact on small groups of students here and there, and said, “At what time does an Edgemont education become not worthy of the $30, $40 or $50,000 hit a lot of us are taking” on their tax bills?

Taddiken defended the district’s choice not to ask teachers, who have given back increases in the past, to take another hit, saying they have made enough sacrifices and are going the extra yard to preserve the quality of education.

“The toughest part of our costs to control is personnel,” said board member Thomas McCormack. “We’re in the middle of a contract now. We don’t have many tools to fight that fight.” He pointed out that, with a 2 percent cap, there are few ways to control costs without making staff cuts.

“Almost every issue you’ve raised tonight, we’ve spent a lot of time looking at them and struggled with them.”

Board member Lisa Wexler joined other members of the board in voicing support for the budget proposal, saying the cuts are not draconian, and agreeing with board member David Stern that the cuts were not driven so much by the cap as by economics.

“The tax rate is going up this year over last year and we already thought we were too high last year,” she said.

Also Tuesday night:

Edgemont Junior-Senior High School seniors Alex Bhandari-Young and Apoorva Talanki spoke about their projects that earned them semifinal spots in the nationwide Intel Science Talent Search .

The board recognized the achievements of 2012 National Merit Scholarship finalists Gabriella Kallas, Eugene Kim, Andrew Stoughton, Evie Tzelios, Helen Xu and Kathleen Yam.

The board voted to accept gifts of $6,800 from the E-Club for uniforms for the modified basketball, varsity softball and varsity lacrosse teams and $500 for gymnastics, and $900 from the Edgemont PTSA for the Italian class trip and English class trip.

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