By CHRIS EBERHART
The public caught a glimpse of the administration-versus-teachers mantra that teachers say is eroding morale inside the Tuckahoe school district during a back-and-forth exchange at the March 10 and April 7 Board of Education meetings.
At both meetings, Tuckahoe teachers union president Marianne Amato opposed the district’s proposed layoff of a social worker in the preliminary 2014-2015 budget. Instead of cutting the social worker, Amato suggested cutting an administration position, an idea that was immediately shot down by Board of Education president Dr. Julio Urbina and Superintendent Dr. Barbara Nuzzi.
The proposed social worker layoff is the most recent example in an ongoing trend of teacher and staff cuts within the school district, which have teachers up in arms.
Over the past two school years—2012-2013 and 2013-2014—the school district has cut $714,249 in teachers and staff salaries with an additional $289,428 in cuts proposed for the 2014-2015 school year.
Meanwhile, in that same two-year window, the district has added four new administration positions—an assistant superintendent, two assistant principals and a director of physical education and health—that total $470,000 in annual salaries.
During the school board’s April 7 budget meeting, Nuzzi explained the need for the administrators by alluding to a 2003 audit of the Tuckahoe school district by Phi Delta Kappa International‑, an auditor from Indiana that examines curriculum design and delivery systems of a school district‑, and the five-year strategic plan, which was unveiled earlier this year and will serve as a detailed guide for the coming years.
“This extensive study fou-nd that we lacked sufficient K through-112 systems in
most areas, especially in instruction and curriculum and administrative oversight of these key areas,” Nuzzi said. “There are those that may want to revisit the days of lack of accountability and systemic programs in place.” Nuzzi said. “That is not going to happen. That is not what the majority of in this community wants, as evidenced by the needs assessment.”
“We need structure, we need administrative leadership.” she said.
District teachers say the constant cutbacks, along with the administration’s lack of respect for them, have been damaging morale in the school.
“Unfortunately, people don’t know how bad it is inside and how bad the administration is treating teachers,” one teacher, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, said. “[Teachers] are feeling undervalued. They feel like their work is undervalued and their opinions don’t matter.”
A second teacher, who also wished to remain anonymous, used the district’s recent rollout of a parent portal, which is an online database for parents to access a child’s grades, attendance, assignments and teacher comments, as an example of the administration devaluing the teachers’ input.
The second teacher said the teachers were never consulted about the parent portal or trained on how to use it and were actually notified about the implementation after the community was notified.
When asked about the parent portal, the first anonymous teacher who spoke to the Review believes the administration is using bullying tactics by forcing the teachers to go along with the parent portal.
“Teachers are furious about it because it’s not collaborative [between the teachers and administration]; it’s dictatorial,” the teacher said. “No teacher said they weren’t going to do it, but we were never consulted first.” “This is the way we’re treated. We have no say,” the second teacher said. “It’s pure arrogance.”Nuzzi said the district has offered the teachers training since December after she met with the union about the parent portal.
“I met with the union back in December and, since then, the school has been providing ongoing training for the teachers,” Nuzzi told the Eastchester Review in an interview on March 31. “Most of the teachers have been entering grades into the parent portal already and, for those that haven’t been, we reached out to and offered by-hand training from our data analyst, Michael Oliveri.”
Nuzzi remains behind the new program.
“[The parent portal] will have a great benefit for our parents,” she said. “It will provide our parents with information on how their children are doing. It’s going to be a win-win.”
But the teachers disagreed, which was evident by the volume of complaints presented by Amato on March 10.
Amato said the December meeting to which Nuzzi referred was nothing more than a preliminary meeting about the parent portal and, she said, all the teachers received was an email with a PowerPoint presentation about the portal and a number to contact Oliveri if the teachers had any questions. Amato went on to say the teachers are already in constant contact with the parents and adding the parent portal would be a redundancy.
”We already have a long history of working with the parents,” Amato said. “[The Parent Portal] would just be more work but doing the same thing that we’re already doing.”
During the March 10 Board of Education meeting, Amato said there are a host of concerns from the teachers about the portal.
“Teachers want to be part of the discussion regarding the parent portal,” Amato said. “We’ve had some meetings and, in very short time, we have compiled 33 concerns with the portal. We’re not opposed to the portal. We want to make sure the portal is done right for the students, parents and teachers.”
The implementation of parent portal reminded the second teacher who spoke to the Review anonymously of New York State’s rollout of the student database connected with the Common Core, which Tuckahoe administrators and Board of Education board members have publically criticized.
The teacher said, in both instances, the implementations were done without providing teachers with the necessary training on how to use it. In addition, the teacher said, the same risk of being hacked exists.
The school district has said the portal is safe from that threat.
Whether the teachers agree with the parent portal or not, the district is still rolling it out on April 7.