German program cuts generate emotion at EA School Board meeting
Strong feelings on several issues were evident at the Feb. 9 meeting of the East Aurora School Board, which discussed the possible elimination of German at the high school, as well as development of the 2012-13 district budget.
Board member Eric Sweet began the budget discussion by reminding everyone that the state tax cap, unfunded mandates, retirement contributions and step increases are, unfortunately, not in the board’s hands.
Sweet again called on the faculty associations to submit a proposal that would cut costs for the district so that the district could then save more jobs.
“Seventy-five percent of our budget is salaries,” he said.
He also warned that cutting sports programs would not really help the district save money.
“Sports only makes up 1.1 percent of our budget,” he said. “I'm not saying sports should be a sacred cow, but cutting sports won’t save us much.”
“It’s more than just the players on the field,” he said. “It’s school spirit. What do you want your kids doing after school when their homework is done?”
Peggy Lucero, a 1992 graduate of East Aurora High School, kicked off the public comment portion of the meeting by saying she was concerned about the proposed cuts to the German program. Lucero, who also teaches German at Kenmore West High School, said there are seven German teachers in the Ken-Ton district.
“German heritage is strong here,” she said.
Lucero said she is willing to petition the district and publicize the issue because she feels it’s “something we should fight for.”
“Catherine Reimers is impressive as a teacher, and we can’t let her go,” Lucero said.
Reimers also spoke, calling the German program “small but mighty.”
“I’ve never taught in a district where so many parents speak German and so many kids want to visit Germany to study further,” she said. “Someone told me there’s a small East Aurora community within Berlin.”
She also reminded the board that she teaches part time and therefore does not receive benefits.
Roycroft artisan-at-large Thomas Pafk said East Aurora’s reputation as a “quirky, artistic place” will suffer if cuts to the arts are made.
Former district teacher Judith Malys again spoke of “shared decision making” when it comes to making cuts, saying that the entire community should be involved in the process.
(See editorial on page four)
Resident Art Giacolone said the district should be offering more language choices for a global world, not fewer.
Brunson thanked everyone for their input and said the budget process is just beginning.
In a related matter, the East Aurora Faculty Association distributed fliers calling on the board to increase the tax levy to combat the cuts. Todd Hathaway, president of the EAFA, called on the board to “be more aggressive” with raising revenues. He pointed out that last year’s budget passed with quite a bit more than 60 percent of the vote, the number needed to override the tax cap.
“You can’t keep balancing the budget on the backs of teachers,” he said.
Superintendent Brian Russ stressed that both the board and the district administrators are not taking the budget decisions lightly.
“If we had our choice, this wouldn’t be in front of you,” he said. “I don’t want anyone to think we favor one program over another in making these decisions.”
In another matter, board President Daniel Brunson brought up a “compromise” proposed by the Roycroft Campus Corporation regarding the statues of Michelangelo and Elbert Hubbard that sit in front of the district offices on Main Street. While Brunson said the compromise “should be pursued further” after the budget talks, board member Eric Sweet didn’t see tabling the proposal as “doing it justice.”
“I think the statues should stay where they are,” said Sweet.
Board member Stephen Zagrobelny agreed.
“I don’t support the compromise either,” he said. “It’s not likely anyone [on the board] will change their position unless we receive new information.”
Brunson said the compromise may still be put on the agenda of a future board meeting.
At the last meeting, Sweet had brought some concerns regarding the Stewart Scholarship’s application process. Brunson, who serves on the scholarship’s advisory committee, along with Mayor Allan Kasprzak, Town Supervisor Jolene Jeffe and high school Principal James Hoagland, said the committee met with four representatives of the Buffalo Foundation, the organization overseeing the scholarships.
One of Sweet’s concerns was the April 1 application deadline, which he felt was too early because many students are still awaiting acceptance letters. Brunson said the Buffalo Foundation was “interested in being more flexible” with changing the selection of a school even after the awarding of the scholarship.
The foundation is also going to consider increasing the number of scholarships, from about 10 percent of the student population to about 20 percent. However, the foundation said it “can’t do anything about” whether or not students have to reapply each school year or not, Brunson said. Currently, students have to reapply each year for the scholarship.
Sweet said he was “very pleased” with the results of the talks.