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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 29, 2009

Threatens 13% cut in secondary teachers

By Jo E. Prout

VOORHEESVILLE — The Voorheesville Central School District may lose up to 13 percent of its middle school and high school teachers, according to a preliminary budget proposed Monday night.

The proposed layoffs are fueled by declining enrollment and a cut in state aid recommended by the governor. The last teachers hired will be the first fired, said the high school principal, Mark Diefendorf.

“It’s really taken a hit on us administrators here,” Diefendorf told The Enterprise. “People that I hired and that I value as teachers and as representatives of the school” could be affected, he said.

Administrators at the elementary, middle, and high schools evaluated their budgets and gave the school board an early view of possible cuts.

The middle school and the high school saw the biggest proposed reductions, with a cut of $523,000. Both schools combined would lose the equivalent of 6.8 full-time teachers. Laying off two half-time teachers in special education, which operates from the high school, would bring the number of teachers cut to 7.8. Most classes would still be offered, but with fewer sections.

Aid time could be reduced by up to 15 hours per day, and the schools could lose one teaching assistant. One administrative position could also be eliminated.

Interim elementary Principal Edward Diegel said Monday that the literacy program for first- and second-graders would be reduced from five to six sections down to four.

“We feel that it’s a manageable situation,” he said.

The elementary school is anticipating one retirement, he said, and may replace a library teaching assistant with an aid.

The elementary school would lose one full-time teacher and six hours per day of aid or teaching assistant time.

Middle school Associate Principal Theresa Kennedy said Monday that most middle school programs are mandated by the state, and would not be affected. English, social studies, and science classes would drop from five to four sections, and Grade 7 art would drop from being offered half a year to one-quarter year, in line with the state mandate for art, she said.

Diminished enrollment spurred some of the section reductions, Diefendorf said, and the budget affected others.

Voorheesville currently has a budget of $21.7 million, about 28 percent of which is covered by state aid. Governor David Paterson has proposed cuts for Voorheesville of $875,000.

Reducing the number of sections offered in social studies, English, and math from five to four “really reflects the enrollment,” Diefendorf told The Enterprise.

Diefendorf told the school board at a budget meeting Monday night that he had already told his teachers about the possible cuts, so that the public meeting would not be the first time they heard about their proposed job losses.

A few years ago, the senior class had 473 students. The current class has 390, Diefendorf told The Enterprise.

“A whole graduating class is not here,” Diefendorf said. The reduction translates into one whole teaching staff member per content area, he said.

“We really need to tighten our belt,” he said. All students, from those who participate in vocational technology classes through the Board of Cooperative Educational Services to those who take Advanced Placement college courses in high school, will have programs available, he said.

“Maybe we took too much out of one area or another,” he said. “This is our first volley across the bow.”

Staff and community members should now weigh in and contribute to the budget process, Diefendorf said.

Last hired, first fired

Diefendorf said that he hopes to bring people back “in some fashion” if state aid is increased from the governor’s prediction or if the district sees faculty retirements. Only a small number of teachers are eligible for retirement this year, he said.

“We always hope that there may be some people who step forward” and retire, he said.

In any department, he said, the district must follow the adage, “last hired, first fired.”

“That’s a Civil Service law. There’s no getting around that,” Diefendorf said.

“This is a work in progress. This is a first step,” he said. “If we change something, we may have to take something out, and cut back on other costs.”

He said that the district presented the information to the public and the staff in a serious manner on Monday.

“This is something that has a certain level of humanity,” he said on Tuesday. “It made things easier to accept. It’s a somber bunch here. It’s exam week, and the teachers are a bit more introspective and talking with each other.”

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