Faced with close to $11 million in budget cuts for the 2012-13 school year, the New Haven Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve steep preliminary cuts to the district’s teaching staff.
The district is calling for for the upcoming school year — the highest number of notices to be issued, district officials said.
“Tonight is the worst night for us in New Haven,” Charmaine Banther, president of the New Haven Teacher’s Association, said at the Tuesday night meeting. “We’ve done all the things we’ve can.”
“Everything we value that makes us different is now on the list,” she added.
In addition to 25 elementary teaching positions, the district is proposing to cut all library staff, literary coaches, music teachers and elective positions in elementary and middle schools.
According to district officials, more than 90 percent of the district’s budget is comprised of staff salaries. Having already eliminated school transportation, implemented additional furlough days and increased class sizes, the district wasn’t left with many other choices, New Haven spokesman Rick La Plante said.
The exact number of teachers who will receive layoff notices, however, has yet to be determined. Some of those who receive pink slips for layoffs may be rehired, La Plante said. School districts are required by the state to approve preliminary layoffs by March 15.
The layoffs will be finalized in May.
News of electives being cut from schools raised concerns among students, with several middle and high school students voicing their concerns at the Tuesday night school board meeting.
“Middle school is our base. This is where we start what we’re going to do when we get older,” Sukhmapreet Kaur, a seventh grade show choir student at , told the boad. “If you take away our music now, everything’s going to change.”
“Most people come to school just for the electives,” added Jessica Ruth, also a seventh grade show choir student. “Would there even be a school if the students don’t want to go there?”
Ruth said that if the electives are cut, her parents will enroll her in a private school.
Rufus Wollo, a 16-year-old soccer player at James Logan High School, also spoke to support sports programs. He credits his experience on the middle school soccer team for giving him a path to pursue in life.
“Just like me, there are some kids that have great talent and need opportunity,” Wollo said. “Middle school and high school sports may be their only breakthrough to make it.”
Jennifer Carini, a choir director at Cesar Chavez Middle School, said she left a private school in San Diego in 1999 to teach in New Haven.
“I’ve always felt happy to work here in a district that supports electives,” she said.
Carini urged the Board of Education to consider the impacts of eliminating electives
“I fear that if these classes are cut, not only do our children not benefit, we become like the rest of the schools,” she said.
School board trustees stressed that they weren’t happy about the measures they were forced to take.
“We have to send out pink slips to a lot of great people; it’s heartbreaking,” said school board trustee Jonas Dino. “We’re cutting off limbs so that the whole body can survive.”
“The decisions that we have to make here are required by law, but they’re in direct conflict with what’s in our hearts,” added Board of Education President Michelle Matthews.
Matthews acknowledged that, like many of the students who spoke at the meeting, she, too, went to school for the electives.
“If not for those programs, I wouldn’t have made it through school,” she said.“[But] the economy and the way our state funds our public education system, it’s backed us in a corner.”
Matthews and her fellow board members urged the community to support the upcoming June parcel tax measure. The four-year $180 tax would generate $3 million each year it’s in place.
A similar measure failed last year, which some officials said would have lessened the impact on the district and made these preliminary layoffs less severe.
“That $3 million this year could have got us out of much of the cuts we face tonight,” Banther said.
“We didn’t create this problem and we’ve done everything we can to keep us from this situation,” she said. “I’m hoping our community will join with us and support the passing of the parcel tax.”