March 04, 2010

Peekskill: Class sizes likely to burgeon as teachers face layoffs

Author: Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT News Wire


View All | Full Screen | Photos by Alan Zale

Layoffs once again loom over Peekskill teachers and staff, a blow that could undo all the gains the district has made in its test scores in the past decade, said Mary Boyle, president of the Peekskill Faculty Association and a middle school reading teacher. She was part of the statewide "Day of Action" to oppose Governor Paterson's proposal to cut $1.4 billion in education aid.

The district lost 23 people to layoffs last year, and although a few were hired back with federal stimulus money, many of the cuts were permanent, Boyle said. Faculty, staff, students and parents know that stimulus money is not going to rescue the district from the plight it faces this year: a likely $1.8 million budget cut and the prospect of 70 layoffs.

"We have people out of work, and it's really tragic," said Boyle, who spoke at a news conference Thursday surrounded by district administrators, parents, students and local school advocates. "We had people with 15 years in the district lose their jobs. We lost some aides and paraprofessionals, and we had a 50 percent cut in our clinical staff of social workers and psychologists. We lost four, and that's a huge cut for our district, which is a very high-needs district."

Class size is already at 24 to 28 students in the K-5 grades, and it's likely to go up again, Boyle said. She can see no immediate solution, as a property tax increase is unlikely. Education advocates, including parents' groups, are trying to get school board members to come into the schools and see for themselves what the real effects of the cuts would be, so that decisions in the forthcoming school budget process will not be made at a table far removed from the places the budget affects the most, Boyle said.

"There's really not that much to cut," she said.

Joining Boyle at the news conference was Superintendent Judith Johnson; Peekskill Education Foundation head and Peekskill parent Jeff Stern; Maria Velez-Green, a parent on the district's budget advisory committee; student Alex Velez-Green - who is Maria Velez-Green's son - and school board member Tuesday McDonald.