By CHRIS EBERHART
The Tuckahoe school district’s budget proposal has created a stir among teachers and their union after calling for the layoff of a social worker.
During the March 10 Board of Education meeting, the district presented its $31.3 million budget for the 2014-2015 school year that will require $1.2 million in cuts to remain under the state mandated tax levy cap, which is 1.47 percent, and allow for an increase in tax revenue of $382,959.
In order to remedy the $1.2 million shortfall, the school district is proposing staff reductions that include the middle and high schools’ social worker and a district attendance clerk. These reductions would save the district $162,530 and $83,875, respectively, including salary and benefits.
During the meeting, Assistant Superintendent Carl Albano said the loss of the social worker, Traci Holtz, won’t be as detrimental as it sounds because the district has three other support staff members—two guidance counselors in the middle school and one guidance counselor in the high school—that will take over the workload left behind by the social worker. Albano also said there is a 135 to 1 student-to-guidance-counselor ratio in the middle school and high school, which he said “is probably the most desirable in Westchester County.”
Tuckahoe Teachers’ Association president Marianne Amato disagrees.
She said the school district should look into cutting administration and not a social worker.
“I was shocked and dismayed by the suggestion that we might eliminate the social worker in the middle and high schools,” Amato said. “The social worker gave me a list of her responsibilities, and I looked through them and said to myself, how are we ever going to do this in-house? Our guidance counselors are not equipped to do the things a social worker is licensed to do.”
Amato said the school district is top-heavy with administration and that’s where the cuts should come from.
“In addition to a superintendent, we have an assistant superintendent,” she said. “In addition to three principals, we have two assistant principals. And now we have a director of physical education and health. My suggestion is to look into cutting administration because they are big ticket items.”
Julio Urbina, president of the Tuckahoe Board of Education, disagreed with Amato and fired back by citing a 2003 audit of the Tuckahoe school district by Phi Delta Kappa International, an auditor from Indiana that examines curriculum design and delivery system of a school district, which said the district does not have a comprehensive curriculum management plan in place. Urbina said a current management plan would’ve been the responsibility of the assistant superintendent that was let go.
Urbina said a needs assessment completed by consultant Dr. Charles Wilson from 2011 to 2012 echoed the 2003 audit.
“It’s easy to say, if we get rid of this administrator or that administrator, don’t worry; the principals will take this on and the principals will take that on,” Urbina said. “But it’s not possible to do what you want to do with a skeleton administrative staff. The changes over the past couple of years were to right size the administration. [Cutting an administrator] is something that we will take a look at, but I don’t think eliminating administration is the immediate answer in replacement of a social worker.”
Including salary and benefits, the district would save $162,530 by laying off the social worker. In comparison, the assistant superintendent Amato referenced is making $190,000 per year in salary alone, according to his contract, and the two assistant principals make $115,000 and $120,000 per year in salary, according to the minutes of the Board of Education.
Amato said the social worker was hired in response to a 2003 tragedy—in which a 17-year-old student Brian Morris attempted to kill his girlfriend and then committed suicide by throwing himself in front of an oncoming train—and the district should not lose sight of that.