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Utica teachers take hit when budgets are tight

Posted by keshiaclukey on May 9, 2013 at 7:30 PM

Utica teachers take hit when budgets are tight

Since 2010, about 175 positions have been cut


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UTICA - Over the course of four years, the Utica City School District has cut about 311 positions - and about 175 of them were teachers.

Continued financial difficulties have left the district with few other options.

"Nobody wants to cut positions or lay people off," Superintendent Bruce Karam said. "When we have a large budget deficit and we need to bridge the gap, we're looking at everything we could possibly cut. All we had left were people."

Facing a $6.2 million budget deficit - a result of forced federal spending cuts, significant rising costs, a planned charter school, the 2 percent property tax cap and insufficient state funding - the district again turned to large scale reductions this year.

The about $139 million 2013-14 budget includes a 2 percent tax increase and the elimination of 94 positions, 59 of which are teachers. The budget will go to a public vote May 21.

In the past three years, more than 35,000 educators have been cut from schools throughout the state, said Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, an advocacy group.

"It's a very dramatic impact on the students and on the teachers and the community," he said.

The cuts result in the loss of programming, meaning fewer opportunities for students, as well as larger class sizes resulting in less individualized attention and more risk of students falling through the cracks.

And the cuts aren't over.

"This budget is the best one we've seen since 2008, but the feedback we're hearing is that more cuts are expected," Easton said about the state budget, which was finalized March 29.

The $21.2 billion state education budget includes about $425 million more than Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed in January and $936.6 million more than districts received this year.

The increase equated to an additional $313,164, without building aid, for the Utica district and the retention of 4.5 teaching positions, as well as the restoration of a full-time science teaching position that was cut last year.

"It's still not a great situation, obviously," said Larry Custodero, president of the Utica Teachers Association. "We have no say in where they make the cuts. It just has to be done by seniority. Unfortunately, those who got cut last year (and were recalled) may get laid off again."

The cuts

Major eliminations began in Utica with the 2010-11 budget, when 16 positions were eliminated, 12 of which were teachers.

The 2011-12 budget was worse: 51 cuts, 20 of them teachers.

But then came 2012-13: 150.4 positions eliminated, 84.4 of which were teachers.

And this budget season will continue the pattern, unless further state aid or aid lost from forced federal spending cuts is awarded.

There currently are about 775 teachers in the district, Custodero said.

To make the cuts, the district takes recommendations from the 13 building principals, central office administration and those who oversee the departments prior to coming to a decision.

"We make sure that seniority is respected," Karam said. "We make sure that we are not in violation of any contractual rights in regard to the union."

Those laid off are put on a recall list and get the first opportunity to come back when positions open, Custodero said.

The association has been working to help the district, for example, agreeing not to take a raise last year,

The union and district have agreed on a $14,000 retirement incentive for teachers this year in the hopes of saving jobs. A total of 17 teachers must take the incentive for it to go through.

"We're working together, and we'll support the budget as we always have to get through it," Custodero said.

Still, the impacts of the cuts are detrimental.

The results

One of the major impacts is on class size.

"They're just getting bigger and bigger," Custodero said. "Everybody's worried about the number of children in the room."

Next school year, class sizes of up to 34 students are expected in classrooms from the elementary schools through the middle and high schools.

Larger class sizes put students at greater risk of falling behind or dropping out, experts said.

"At a time when the Board of Regents is raising standards and striving to ensure that every child is college and career ready, we are eliminating the adults in schools who are going to help children to do just that," said New York State United Teachers spokesman Carl Korn.

The whole area could feel the pain, Korn said.

"When you lose middle class teaching jobs, the economy suffers," he said.

Plus, the community and state's economic viability suffers, Easton said.

"We're not preparing the workforce that we need to jumpstart the upstate economy, and frankly, we're bursting the bubble on the hopes and dreams of parents and community members for the possibilities of young people," he said.

Utica Budget Eliminations

School year Teachers cut Total positions cut Budget total

2013-14* 59 94 $139 million

2012-13 84.4 150.4 $137 million

2011-12 20 51 $133 million

2010-11 12 16 $132.6 million

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