The Public Schools of the Tarrytowns opened last Thursday, despite record rains, flooding and road closures, Superintendent Howard Smith noted at last night's board meeting.
Budgetary cuts eliminated some needed painting, but buildings were ready to receive students. And more than 50 percent of the district's teachers had participated in summer curriculum work to better instruction.
Bussing Changes Cause Hardships
However, new bussing regulations approved by the voters of Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown last spring have created a hardship for many families who in the past depended on school busses.
To save money, the voters agreed to close the Tappan Hill School in 2010. Last spring, to net additional savings, bussing distances were increased for third- through fifth-grade students now schooled at Washington Irving School.
$100,000 in transportation costs were cut by expanding the minimum walking distance at the Washington Irving School from .5 miles to .8 miles. Smith said that while 6 busses had served the school in 2010-11, this year only 5 are running, eliminating both the bus and the driver.
"Walking distances can only be changed by a community vote," Smith said. "The voters in May approved this, and by law we are not authorized to change this."
Norman Purdy, a parent, spoke for a group of parents in his neighborhood whose third-graders are no longer eligible for transportation. "These kids are seven years old. We have to keep the children in perspective." Purdy also noted that "99.9 percent of us go to work" and cannot drive the students to school.
School crossing guards are also in short supply, parents said. Crossing guards are supplied by the police departments of both villiages, and Smith acknowledged that the Tarrytown police department had eliminated one crossing guard as a cost-cutting measure.
Another parent said that because Washington Irving starts at 7:45, her third grade daughter would have to leave home at 7 a.m. when in a few weeks it will be dark outside.
Board president Joseph Lillis was visibly moved by the plight of these families. "These are very difficult choices," he said.
Board Vice President Vincent Nadile collected names of parents present at the meeting who were affected by the new walking distances, and Smith said the district would review capacity on existing busses to see if some accommodations could be made.
Smith said, "It's one thing to walk in nice fall weather, but another thing on a snowy winter day."
Back to School Report
Enrollment is up 2 percent, with 90 students registering over the summer and 77 moving out of district. 33 percent of our new students entered from non-public schools, mostly in the middle and high school. Only 9 percent of our departing students went to non-public schools.
Class sizes in the elementary schools are averaging between 23 and 24. The same is true in the high school, however some classes in all the academic disciplines are as large as 34. In the past, Smith said, the district would have hired more teachers to lower the class size, but budget constraints do not allow this now.
Smith reported that kindergarten teachers were pleased with the orientation program provided this year. Sixty-two children participated, and teachers feel that they are more at ease in the building as a result.
Nine percent of elementary students participated in The Horseman Program, a summer program of independent work designed to help struggling students.
Smith also commended teachers who volunteer to read weekly at the library in the Teachers Telling Tales program.
Board member Mimi Godwin commended the parents who raised funds and worked to complete the playground at Washington Irving School. "It's absolute magic, an asset and a tribute to our community."
The Middle School's environmental club, led by advisor Mike Garduilo, won the Edith Reed Award for sustainability.
At the October 6 meeting, the property tax lawsuits called tax certiorari will be the topic of discussion.
The November meeting will consider testing results and the implications for instruction.