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Small Class Sizes, Spending Limits Top Priorities

School district reveals results of Community Budget Survey.

Maintaining small class sizes while keeping any potential tax increase to a level near or below the tax levy cap were among the top takeaways from the school district’s recent on-line Community Budget Survey.

Superintendent Richard Simon unveiled the survey’s results Wednesday night at a budget work session held at Beach Street Middle School.

The survey’s 1,198 respondents provided a great deal of insight into the community’s priorities for the 2013-14 school year and beyond.

When asked about class sizes, 82 percent of respondents were in favor of keeping average class sizes low versus raising class sizes. In fact, 57.1 percent said it was “essential and critical” to keep class sizes low.

When asked about the draft budget for the 2013-14 school year, 57.6 percent said they would support a tax levy increase only to the cap, which for West Islip is 3.8 percent.

However, the question about the tax levy increase for the coming school year’s budget was criticized by a number of survey respondents. They complained that there was no choice given for those who wanted no tax levy increase or an increase that was less than the school district’s tax levy cap.

“Approximately 50 comments indicated a preference for a tax increase that is less than the cap, including some that requested no tax increase,” Simon said.

One money saving proposal now on the table, reducing the middle school day to eight periods from nine periods for a savings of about $700,000 annually, was met with split results. In the survey, 51 percent viewed maintaining a nine period day at the middle school level as “essential and critical” or “very important,” while 49 percent said it was “good but not essential” or “not important enough to preserve.”

Other survey result highlights:

• A majority of respondents (56.8%) favored some type of furlough to help the school district save money.

• Nearly 7 in 10 respondents said the school district should use additional reserves in the 2013-14 budget.

• 76.9 percent of those who took the survey said they were the parent of a school-aged child currently attending West Islip schools.

Simon also said that IP addresses were used to monitor the survey and avoid anyone “stuffing the ballot.” He noted that there were a few IP address that had “30 or 40” responses and the decision to limit responses from a given IP address to five was made.

A copy of the full survey results are attached with this story.

Had Enuf! March 24, 2013 at 10:01 PM
Think your taxes are high now? Google....NY STATE Pension Bomb and read about the tsunami of taxes headed your way to pay for public employees pensions and benefits. GET OUT OF NEW YORK STATE BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE
pampatriot March 24, 2013 at 11:51 PM
Why should a teacher with amazing college credentials need to be trained in IB? Those IB junkets to train the teachers cost our district a couple of grand each. This is what the Geneva Switzerland IB model insists upon, that all instructors be trained (AP does not) and the essay questions are expensive to grade, and tests are graded out of the country, plus IB students tend to mingle in their own rigorous circles plus there is no guarentee of an IB diploma and there is no guarentee that good scores on IB exams will get you the college credits you're looking for. That's not the case with AP. So it's a time consuming, ALL consuming programme, expensive to the tax payers, expensive for the students and parents, and when all is said and done, at graduation time, where WI is concerned, we graduate large numbers of AP scholars, always have. No IB diploma graduates though.
Rich March 25, 2013 at 12:45 PM
How about instead of running, we try to cut costs and improve the academics here in West Islip. We have very dedicated volunteers on our BOE who spend hundreds of hours of their free time helping our district. Unfortunately with the housing bubble bursting and decreasing salaries in the community, the problems are greater than ever before. Maybe it's time for some professional expertise on the BOE. We have openings coming up this year, suppose we replaced these slots with a retired Accountant or two. Even if we paid them a Part time salary (no benefited position) of $30,000 a year, their expertise in finding savings and making objective BOE decisions might be well worth the cost. Some communities already have paid BOE members with individual professional skills necessary to run a school district in a very challenging economy.
Wendy Regan March 25, 2013 at 01:28 PM
@Rich, Go back to when each member ran for their seat and read their bios. Each member sold themselves to the voting public as having professional expertise in whatever professional area was so desperately needed at that point in time. Supposedly, we have tons of professional expertise on our boe right now. Also, I'm not clear on why the district would hire retired accountants as boe members when the district already pays an accounting firm a hefty fee each and every year and doesn't take their advice anyway.
pampatriot March 25, 2013 at 01:29 PM
Can you name a few of the schools that you know of that pay their BOE. If what you are saying is true (and of course it makes sense) by being paid, they have more of a level of accountability, and for them, the stakes are slightly higher. I'd like to take a look at the schools you know of and see if a paid BOE makes a difference in their bugeting and decision making. No doubt countless hours are invested by volunteers, but let's never forget that they chose to run for office, with eyes wide open. For some, the office they hold is a power grab, the hotter the seat gets, the more at home they are. For others it's a sacrifice that they are definitely making because they know that they need to be there to keep a healthy balance because of some of the ego's who think their seat is really a THRONE.
Rich March 25, 2013 at 01:38 PM
That's because the BOE doesn't take the Accountants advice, but if the Accountant was a full voting member of the BOE (one of the 7), that just might be quite different.
Rich March 25, 2013 at 01:49 PM
It's obviously something new but obviously with our high taxes, closing two schools in a single year, increasing class sizes, it might be worth a look. A simple Google search revealed Troy, Ohio. http://tdn-net.com/main.asp?SubSectionID=255&ArticleID=112249&SectionID=152 A paid professional BOE during these times of high taxes and difficult decisions, brings objectivity and professional experience to the job. It also removes politics and the popularity contest atmosphere of picking the best BOE members.
pampatriot March 25, 2013 at 02:11 PM
Yes, I saw that one too. It's not around here though. And Wendy is right, we've got those bases covered supposedly. I just don't know why they can't work with what they have. Why can't they keep our expenses down, demand higher achievment by our educational bodies, and rather than look for monetary rewards, and popularity and ego contests, (while spending money we don't have), do the jobs you promised to do, and how about trying to raise the bar!
Rich March 25, 2013 at 02:30 PM
We've been waiting for the bar to get raised for years. How's that going so far? Paid objective professionals making up at least two spots on the BOE might be worth a try? So far the bar has been set dismally low.
pampatriot March 25, 2013 at 02:50 PM
Just look around this entire town Rich. Look at the BOE, see their connection to the people who run all the clubs in this town. It's the same faces again and again, with the exception of one or two who know enough to contribute what they can, and then move on. Who would want to sit in a seat for more than 15 years, and not decide to leave it? I call that arrogance! If everyone understood the practice and value of limiting the amount of time on all of these boards, to about three years tops, and then graciously leave and allow someone else to bring their talents and exuberance to the round table, we would see a big bright light always shining and exposing any type of irregular or questionable practices by the more nefarious types that went before them. A bright light is a healthy anticeptic, a remedy for the bad stuff that tends to grow from either complaceny and/or ego and I hate to say it.
Rich March 25, 2013 at 03:14 PM
That's one of the advantages of a paid member who is responsible and who can be hired on their qualifications and not their connections and be terminated if they are not doing their job well. They would be part time experts, possibly retired and they could be objective because they would not have all the connections. They could be hired by a committee of the Superintendent and each of the 7 Principals, with all members of the committee having an equal weighted vote. Hopeful then the decisions will be made that our in the best academic interest of all our students and the financial tolerance of the community.
West Islip Resident March 25, 2013 at 04:01 PM
The BOE is biased based on the affiliation of their own children attending in our schools. They take every advantage for their children then ride off when they graduate. I think that a simple inexpensive fix would be to not allow people to be on the BOE when they currently have children in our schools. It's just like the sports in WI, funny how the teachers kid and his neighbors get the most play time making their opportunity to get scholarships and monies other children wouldn't dream of having an opportunity to receive. Yes they may have talent, but it's because of the effort put into those children by those teachers and coaches who are friends of the family. Unfortunately WI is run like an organized crime family and unless you know a guy, your kid is out of luck and has to succeed on their own.
Donald Knots March 25, 2013 at 04:05 PM
Hey Rich we need few more on the Board that are willing to speak the truth and speak up!!. If anyone was at the last board meeting a Board member was speaking about the current school security issues and made a statement that the High School specifically was a “free for all" and needed to be tightened up, the faces of the other board members dropped and Zotto was quickly hushed by Larosa and other members who tried to make excuses for what Mr. Zotto had publicly said. Reality is that the HS is a mess I have walked in and out of that school to drop my daughters off for events here and there and anyone can walk-in any time they want and not be challenged. The Security has been a joke until Mr. Zotto ignited a spark under someone and they seem to be picking up the pace a little bit. This board member has spoken up in the past time and time again. Mr. Zotto was against bringing the IB program to our cash strapped school district. Zotto voted against the Superintendents stipends, raises and an extension of his contract a year ago- Seems like he may have a mind of his own,shocking too bad we don't have a few more .
pampatriot March 25, 2013 at 05:22 PM
It's funny you should say that, Mike Zotto is exactly the kind of antiseptic I am talking about. Why should a subject like high school security be silenced? I just know that there is plenty of money in the budget to invest in tightening security, it's a priority so it must be in the budget, right?
frustrated March 25, 2013 at 06:43 PM
That is a funny one....secretaries make 100K+ what water are you drinking? The average one makes in the 40's ...maybe you find one that makes a high salary.
frustrated March 25, 2013 at 06:49 PM
I believe the district could use a person like you on the Board. Put your name on the ballot, we need some good contenders.
frustrated March 25, 2013 at 06:51 PM
Your are so right
Tired of This March 25, 2013 at 08:03 PM
Why are we cancelling any programs? The survey was a complete joke. No where on the survey did it address having teachers increase their contributions to insurance, cutting administration staff, pension reform, no salary increases, didn't Simon just get a raise? Every choice was about what we can cut from the children, nothing to do with the run away waste that the district pays out. The only reason why they provided a survey was so that the Board can hold it against the taxpayers at a later date, making us believe that we have a say in how the money is spent. Yet when you can only respond to pre-determined questions, do you really have a say????
Donald Knots March 25, 2013 at 08:15 PM
Welcome to the World. I don't agree with it but WELCOME..
pampatriot March 25, 2013 at 08:31 PM
Of course you are right. However, the IB progamme is a duplicate programme. We have an outstanding AP program, or at least we had (not if AP courses are being eliminated suddenly to accomodate IB) for decades. So with a college approved, tried and true, long standing, widely recognized across the country AP programme, we ADDED the costly IB programme. It's a product we purchased from Geneva Switzerland, because of the vision of a few who thinks this illustrious program will have an impact on our already high end achievers coming through West Islip. They always use the tired mantra of "it's a rigorous and more in depth approach to learning" than the so called "rote way of learning" they claim is associated with AP. Meanwhile, AP scholars are leaving our district onto higher education taking with them their AP scholarship each and every year. We don't pay anything for AP, the students do. The cost of IB is not honestly discussed and it isn't just to the district it is also to the students. I don't want to see an Geneva Switzerland product that only caters to a few students kept in the face of other sacrifices we have had to make, like the closing of two schools. The start up costs for IB, along with continued teacher training and annual IB dues to Geneva, including other operating costs going forward, not to mention the vision of bringing it to our Middle schools, speaks to the costs they knowingly chose to accept with IB, while shutting schools and eliminating jobs.
West Islip Resident March 25, 2013 at 09:15 PM
Tired, I agree with you 100% and have been saying it all along. The cuts need to come from salaries, expenditures and benefits, not our children's educations. I don't know why only a few people get the new business model concept. There are so many teachers looking for an opportunity in the world to work. That if these teachers, administrators, etc. don't like the new terms of working for us and our children, they can seek greener pastures elsewhere. We the tax payers who are already living the new American business model of no raises and increased pension/benefit contributions can't afford not to take action to save our children's future and the future of West Islip.
Rich March 25, 2013 at 09:22 PM
Crucial AP is accepted by virtually ALL colleges and and universities and costs the district nothing. The IB Program has startup including purchasing the program and costs to maintain the program, and ONLY a handful of colleges and universities accept it. As a wise man once said...what's the question?
pampatriot March 25, 2013 at 09:30 PM
West Isilp Resident, I am afraid with the Common Core Curriculum in place, with the new teacher evaluations, with the testing being done on our children, the friction felt between teachers, parents, administration, etc. is going to begin. I am worried about our teachers, can their unions handle all these changes, which many many educators are unhappy about? We shall soon find out. This is not a good time to be a teacher, having to be evaluated the way they are, teaching to a standard, no flexibility, because students need to know this new common core curriculum in order to do well on these exams. What happens when a teacher needs to focus on students who aren't able to grasp some of these concepts, then what, do they just move on, worried that the rest of the students exam grades will suffer and the blame will be put squarely on their shoulders? These changes are quite shocking, untested, race to the top money dangled in the faces of state governors, who take the money contingent upon agreeing to the common core. Sort of like Nancy Pelosi saying, we have to vote on it, before we can know what's in it. So much happening so fast, at the speed of light, and there isn't a lot anyone can do about, our state took the money. Reminds me of the gun control legislation that was passed so quickly in our state that state law makers who voted for it, are now looking to get it repealed. Closing the barn door after the horses are already out of the barn.
Donald Knots March 25, 2013 at 10:38 PM
Right on the money patriot! Does anyone on the BOE see this? Or are they so entrenched that theyre blinded by what is unfolding right in front of their very eyes! Scary to say the least.
West Islip Resident March 25, 2013 at 11:14 PM
Agreed, but these changes were put into place because so many teachers these days are only worried about a pay check and not the students. I think techer evaluations should be a combination of testing and student evaluations of their performance. I believe this would put good teachers in a position to flourish and bads ones to find new careers.
pampatriot March 25, 2013 at 11:32 PM
Hi Mr. Knots, I want to stick with the common core standards for a minute. Personally, I don't appreciate the way Race to the Top money was dangled in front of every states governor, states that are (like NY) fiscally challenged at this point in time. Attached to that money was the common core curriculum. The ‘Race to the Top’ funding is available for each state to implement the teacher evaluation process that is to be used for uniformity in education. It’s supposed to help raise the levels of teaching to meet the common core standards which links students grades to teacher accountability. It's a lock box. I've been reading where the teachers union in some cities are not going along with this evaluation process because of the way it forces teachers to adhere to a method of teaching that they do not approve of or embrace. The money must be used to improve teacher evaluations, improve data collection and use, while moving toward the common core. How about teacher autonomy? There is something wrong with accepting a common standard of education for every child in America and across the globe. Individual states shouldn't be falling for this one size fits all educational product. Now the teachers, whose livelihood has always hinged upon creativity in the classroom, exceptional education, and a love for teaching, will be subjected to a one size fits all standard, if they don't measure up, fail to comply, what then, will it be bye-bye? That is why I am concerned.
pampatriot March 25, 2013 at 11:43 PM
First you need to understand the common core curriculum. Teacher evaluations are hinged upon being able to teach the common core standards and get all of America's children on the same page, actually all the global children on the same page. It's a lot more complicated than that. Individual states should be working with school districts to create best teaching methods and curriculum. Now our children are the guinea pigs. Diane Ravitch, former US assistant secretary for education, She writes in The Washington Post, “The common core curriculum was developed by an organization called Achieve and the National Governors Association, both of which were generously funded by the Gates Foundation. There was minimal public engagement in the development of the Common Core. Their creation was neither grassroots nor did it emanate from the states, in fact the Heritage Foundation, believe it is undermining states’ rights and local control. I'm worried about our teachers, there is always another way to evaluate our teachers if we really WANTED TO, but not when it hinges upon adoption of this common core, one size fits all, curriculum. That's when it gets very scary as Mr. Knots said.
Donald Knots March 26, 2013 at 12:51 AM
Two seats are open Patriot I think you have the makings of a candidate for the BOE!
pampatriot March 26, 2013 at 02:23 AM
No I don't. I have the makings of someone who stays on the fringe and holds those who CHOSE to run and be elected accountable. We all play our roles. We all know our abilities, some of us are there for the wrong reasons while some run for very clean, righteous reasons, with only service is mind. I don't understand, and probably never will, why the human psyche is such that it can CHOOSE to IGNORE the magnitude of BOE responsibilities, while being blessed with so many awesome talents and gifts, just to use them for self serving, political, and very cowardess, agendas. Hiding behind state mandate formulas, tax levy increases, union conundrums, all in an attempt to successfully fake out the constituency. Where is the nobility in that? Where is the honor in that? Yuk, it's junk, it makes me sick, like making an off handed comment about cementing all the fields in WI, thus hurting the children in WI. Why is something so off handed said, with such sarcasm? Why should a serious issue like security of our high school become a "did you mean to say that" issue...as though a perceived and alleged personal attack of the HS principal needed to be clarified in order for the message to be received. Talk about divisiveness. So to point out anything, question anything, with an absolute understanding of the material involved is taboo? Insulting! The BOE I think were sitting in aluminum chairs, not THRONES. I hope they realize that. So much discuss, so much not being discussed.
Tired of This March 26, 2013 at 02:00 PM
Once again leave it to politics to get this all wrong. When most of us were elementary age we all took standardized test. The difference was that these test were used both as a guide to evaluate the student and as a guide to evaluate the teacher by having the students tested two or three times throughout the school year. The evaluations should be based on the improvement of the child. It's ridiculous that the testing occurs once a year, it is the core for which the teachers' teach and misses the entire concept of how the child is developing. It pains me to say that my third grader has not participated in a reading group in over three months because her teacher is trying to have each child conceptually understand the state exams. This teaching style hurts the children and truly does not reflect the quality of the teacher. Testing is crucial to evaluate the needs and strengths of any individual, it's just done the wrong way in the education system.

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