Despite a projected budget in better shape than recent economic-slump years past, the Tarrytown Union Free School District still has to make its annual sacrifices.
This year, talks of major structural change to the pre-kindergarten program in the face of swelling student population elsewhere in the system had all the pre-k staff in attendance at the latest Board of Education meeting, worried for their fate.
The idea is to farm out the pre-k to contracted workers and reassign the six unionized staffers currently there (three teachers and three teaching assistants) to positions otherwise requiring new hires.
Though Smith has assured teachers there will be a job for them on the other side, somewhere, this doesn’t sit right for many.
One pre-k teacher, who didn't want to use her name, said she was new to our system this school year and noted how sick over the news she was, losing sleep, “not knowing where I’ll be next year.”
Following the staff’s presence at the latest board meeting, the Teachers’ Association sent a letter to Smith.
“The tentative budget proposal that eliminates the district-run Pre-Kindergarten program and outsources these services to an outside, private agency ends a 45 year old district tradition,” the letter began.
Check back for the full version of this letter to be posted later today on Patch.
From the national level (President Barack Obama proposing universal pre-k in his State of the Union address) to talk here of a more robust pre-k statewide, pre-kindergarten has certainly been a matter of scrutiny for some time.
According to Smith, the state has in the past granted a waiver to Tarrytown's program to the requirement that they contract out the pre-k. The state has announced it wouldn’t approve that waiver any more.
This is matched with the problem that the pre-k has been supported largely by state funds which have been frozen at the same level for five years, not keeping pace with annually rising costs. “We’ve been underwriting the program,” Smith said.
Then there’s that population bubble coming up in older grades (3rd, 4th, and 6th grades) which requires budgeting in additional teachers next year. Of course, faced with the infamous tax cap, Smith can’t add to staff “without finding savings elsewhere,” he said.
“With the money saved from contracting out and the level of funding from the state, we can fill a few new elementary positions,” Smith said.
Namely: adding a new teacher in 3rd, 4th and 6th grades to keep classes at the 22-25 student standard. There’s also a proposed new halftime and one full-time special ed teacher position at the high school and one new ESL teacher for the elementary school.
“When the dust settles, as long as you have enough positions for everybody, everyone will have a place," Smith said. Teachers can make requests annually for where they want to be placed and he said he'd find a way to fit everyone accordingly.
Though all pre-k teachers are certified to teach through the elementary grades, that doesn’t mean they want to. “They are there for a reason: they love it,” Smith said. “They wouldn’t voluntarily choose this, but no one’s going to lose a job.”
In the end, says Smith, he bequeaths a district in relatively healthy shape to the new Superintendent Dr. Christopher Clouet.
“If we can pull that off, we can feel good at a time when I’m leaving, that we’re handing over a staff that hasn’t faced carnage like other districts," Smith said.
As far as who will be staffing the pre-k, the district is sending out a request for proposals to local agencies. The program would still be housed at John Paulding School, Smith said, with the same principal and operating by the same principles. The district still approves the curriculum and maintains the same standards from certified staff.
The now-tentatively balanced budget will be formally proposed on March 7, and until then, there’s some “holding our breaths making sure nothing else comes up that would change that," Smith said. "We're in a position that proposes increased staff not layoffs.”
The Teachers' Association begs to differ with this "healthy" status. "It seems shortsighted to do away with a well-established, educationally sound, successful program to save money," their letter stated.
Stay tuned for more. What do you think about a contracted out pre-k? Tell us in the comments.