Shoreham-Wading River School District officials are considering a recent recommendation to lay off 15 teacher assistants in the special education department next school year.
Charles Althoff, the district’s special education director, said he took a hard look at his staffing levels in preparation for next year’s budget and found it was unnecessary to continue assigning two teacher assistants in some classes.
“We did not have to discuss with parents that we were changing anything because we did not change the options their children would be recommended for,” he said. “Most of the staffing we looked at were additional staffing — above and beyond what the mandates were — and I did not feel it was going to affect the quality of program.”
School board member Robert Rose disagreed with how the district’s administration didn’t explain to parents the classroom changes.
“I’m going to tell you right now, there are community members out there that are with the belief that the program they had this year is going to be the same program next year,” he said. “I don’t believe that’s going to be the case. I don’t believe we can provide the same programing without the same staffing.”
Alonna Rubin, president of the district’s Special Education Parent Teacher Association, said during Tuesday’s school board meeting that parents are upset about the proposed changes and believes the cuts will hurt special education students.
“To take support away from our neediest group, it just doesn’t add up for me,” she said.
Another special education parent pleaded with the board to reconsider the layoffs and said her son’s teacher assistant has played an important role with his academic development.
After school board members requested more information about Mr. Althoff’s staffing recommendation, Superintendent Steven Cohen said the salaries for the proposed layoffs are included in next year’s budget and, thus, the district will be able to keep all 15 teacher assistants at the school board’s request.
That news puzzled board members and audience members.
“If you’re excessing 15, why are you budgeting for 15?” school board member Jack Costas asked.
Assistant superintendent Glen Arcuri said the salaries were included because the board was to adopt the budget April 1, which was a few weeks before the district’s administration finalized staffing recommendations for next year.
“We put the funding in,” Mr. Arcuri said. “We’re doing the proper housekeeping now, but then the Board of Education has that flexibility there to say: ‘We don’t want that savings. We don’t want to try it. We want to restore that program.’”
Mr. Cohen agreed to provide the board with more special education staffing and classroom size details to help guide their decision.
“These are the neediest kids in the district and we all feel the same way about them,” he said. “No one wants to do anything but give them what they need, and if the Board of Education is uncomfortable with the analysis we have put up here, then you should say ‘no’ to the administration.”