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34 students in one classroom

Posted by keshiaclukey on May 9, 2013 at 7:20 PM

34 students in one classroom?

It's possible if all Utica budget cuts enacted


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UTICA - Cuts to teaching positions in the Utica City School District could result in class sizes of up to 34 students.

"It was a balancing act," said district Superintendent Bruce Karam about the proposed 2013-14 budget. "We made cuts in every bargaining unit in order to be fair and consistent across the board."

Facing a $6.18 million deficit, the $138 million proposed budget includes cutting 88 positions - 54 of whom are teachers and 11 teaching assistants. Four of the cuts are being done through attrition.

If the district gets more money from the state this year, Karam said his first priority will be to restore teachers.

"We need teachers in the classroom," he said.

Larry Custodero, president of the Utica Teachers Association, said he's not too worried about the current proposal.

"The situation is not as idealistic as we want it, but I don't think it's as bad as we're portraying it," Custodero said.

The number also can change due to retirements, or if the district receives more aid.

"I'm not saying we're going to get everybody back, but I'm hoping we do," he said. "In my experience, the superintendents take everything at the worse-case scenario when they do their budgets. What's presented to the voters may be a little different. You don't know what's going to happen until that's finalized."

The proposed budget is about one-half percent, or $742,714, more than this year's, and includes a 2 percent property tax increase as well as reductions in supplies and staff development.

Last year, the district faced a similar deficit when about 150 positions were cut as well as funding to programs.

The 2012-13 budget originally had 227 position cuts; however, an increase in aid allowed the district to restore some.

If the current cuts pass, the proposed class sizes could be between 20 and 34 students in classrooms from the elementary schools through the middle and high schools.

For example, at John F. Hughes Elementary School, the two third-grade classes are projected to have 34 students with one teacher per class.

The state does not require or recommend a teacher-to-student ratio, said spokesman Jonathan Burman in an email.

He said, however, districts under the state Contracts for Excellence Program, which gives aid to low-performing districts, requires districts to reduce class sizes.

"A district that has signed a contract calling for a reduction in class size must meet that obligation," Burman said.

Under the program Utica received about $11 million from the state, according to the department.

Karam said the district has recommended class sizes but no cap contractually.

"We will balance out class enrollments across the board to make sure that again we have an even spread and to make sure that we can accommodate enrollments," he said.

The Board of Education will review the budget and conduct public hearings. The board is expected to vote on it in March followed by a public vote in May.

"I want to reiterate that we did not want to lay off anybody," Karam said. "We didn't want to lay off teachers, but since we are not getting our fair share of state aid, we just don't have the funds to sustain the current workforce."

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