LAKE PLACID - A group of local parents is trying to prevent classroom size increases at Lake Placid Elementary School, caused by teacher staff reductions in the school district's 2014-15 budget.
Darcy Norfolk, on behalf of several parents, sent an email to Superintendent Roger Catania and school board President Mary Dietrich questioning the projected increase in classroom size in 2014-15 for third-graders and the student-to-teacher ratio, among several other concerns. The parents are also organizing a petition. They currently have 40 signatures against the increase.
The $17.6 million budget, which voters passed on May 20 with 81 percent approval, cut 3.1 full-time-equivalent teacher positions in the district. Previously, at a May public hearing in Wilmington, Catania said the highest classroom size would be 22 to 23 students. He indicated at the Tuesday board meeting that the number had changed and that 25 students is now the accurate amount.
"Things change over time," Catania said when asked why the classroom size had increased to 25 for third-graders.
"What we do know is that there are 49 students in the current 2nd grade class," Norfolk wrote in the email. "Approximately 2/3 of these students are boys, as well as significant behavioral issues and a large number of special needs.
"Small class size is not a new topic and one that we assumed the school district and parents are all on the same page," Norfolk added. "But what defines small size for our school district seems to be changing quickly."
About eight mothers attended Tuesday night's school board meeting. Three spoke, seeking answers from Catania and the board.
"We strongly feel reducing from three to two teachers (in third grade) is the wrong decision," Norfolk said to the board. "We feel this will set a precedent for larger class sizes in the future. ... We just need some answers here for our kids."
Norfolk told the board she recently asked her 7-year-old son, who's in second grade, what it would be like to have an additional 10 students in his class.
"His reply was, 'chaos,'" Norfolk said.
Holly Kostoss, a mother of a second-grader and fifth-grader, questioned why a teacher from the third grade was cut instead of a teacher from a higher grade, like fifth. Catania has said teacher cuts were made through attrition and that is also the case for this teacher.
"It just seems to me like a recipe for a tough year for these kids and teachers," Kostoss said.
School board Vice President John Hopkinson told the parents information about the budget has been available for months. Dietrich was absent from the meeting.
"We started developing the budget for next year in January," Hopkinson said. "In addition to that, presentations were made in the community. Public hearings were made in Lake Placid and Wilmington. There was no intent what so ever to pull a fast one."
Hopkinson said that after board members have a discussion with the superintendent, they will write a response to the parents.
"I would be happy to walk through it with you and anybody else," Catania said to the group. "That would show you why decisions are being made."
After the board meeting, Catania decided to meet with the parents at a later date to discuss the decision fully. The meeting was set up for next Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. in the conference room of the district's administrative services building.