At NHP-GCP budget meeting, parent concerns with class sizes

In its second public budget workshop this year, New Hyde Park-Garden City Park School District’s Board of Education heard an array of the community’s funding suggestions, but most parents were concerned with one thing: the size of third grade classes at Manor Oaks School.

The New Hyde Park-Garden City Park has more than 1,600 students and comprises four schools: Garden City Park, Manor Oaks, Hillside Grade and New Hyde Park Road. The Board of Education uses the feedback from the workshops to develop its budget proposal, which will be presented in April and voted on by the public in May.

During the workshop Monday evening, five mothers of third graders at Manor Oaks said the class sizes, 27 students each, were too large and hampered the education of their children.

“I know for a fact that my son is not getting the attention he deserves,” one mother said.

“Reducing class sizes should be a priority at Manor Oaks,” echoed another.

But district Superintendent of Schools Robert Katulak said 27-student classes for third grade falls within the district’s class-size guidelines, which were recently reduced to a maximum of 27 students from 29.

Ensuring class sizes remain within the limits of the caps can lead to larger sections for some grades, Katulak said.  

“Everybody would like classes that are smaller,” he said. “But financially it’s difficult to do that.”

Katulak used an example to explain how teacher distribution in the district works: If the school were to have four teachers to split between third and fourth grades, with 54 students entering third grade and 28 entering fourth, then the district would need to assign two teachers for each grade.

This is because the 28 fourth graders would exceed the cap if they were all in one class, necessitating two sections, while the 54 third graders split into two sections remain within the 27-student maximum.

At this point, he added, hiring additional teachers is not a realistic possibility.

He said the district must find $700,000 to maintain its current programs and staff, due to higher costs stemming from annual raises. Adding a teacher, he said, would mean another $80,000 on top of that.

In addition to reduced class sizes, community members at the meeting asked that the budget include funding to retain the full teaching staff, replace snow equipment and renovate sports fields, along with other capital projects.

A fifth grader from New Hyde Park Road School drew applause when he asked the district not to cut funding for special education and music.

“Those (special education) teachers are there to help me with my concentration,” he said. “If they weren’t there, along with music, I wouldn’t know where I was in school.”

Katulak said his district weathered the financial downturn better than most – New Hyde Park-Garden City Park did not lay off any teachers.

But, he said, his priority for the upcoming budget is to avoid cuts to existing programs, not to add additional services the district may be unable to afford in the future.

“We’re basically looking at maintaining all the current programs we’ve had and maintaining the staff,” Katulak said. “Due to the board’s efficient and effective planning, we’ve been able to do that the past eight years ­- we never had to lay people off.”

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James Galloway

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