Dozen Riverhead teachers, nine teaching assistants given pink slips

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead School officials announced this week that 21 staffers will lose their jobs next year in an effort to get under the tax cap.

Twelve Riverhead teachers and nine teaching assistants received pink slips Friday afternoon as the school district wrestles with trimming $3.2 million from the budget to stay under the state tax hike cap, officials said.

The 21 employees were told Friday afternoon that they would not have positions in September, district superintendent Nancy Carney said in an email Monday.

“It is incredibly frustrating to me as an educator that any of these cuts had to be made,” Ms. Carney said. “What is perhaps most upsetting to me is that none of these people are being laid off for cause; they are each excellent employees who contribute to the education of our students.”

Ms. Carney said the district is working with faculty unions to save more for next year’s budget and said she remains hopeful that retirements from current staff, substitutes, attrition and other methods would allow some of the teachers to return. Last year, 13 teachers were cut, though seven eventually returned to work at the district, Ms. Carney said. Four administrative positions were also cut last year and were not restored.

The superintendent said the faculty cuts would lead to bigger class sizes, adding that while the district doesn’t want this to happen, “with the provisions of the new tax cap levy law, larger class sizes are an unfortunate reality.”

The cuts were needed to keep the district under the tax levy cap, Ms. Carney said. The tax cap limits the annual increase in the district’s tax levy — the amount of money the district collects from taxpayers — to 2 percent.

The cap, which became New York State law in 2011, can only be exceeded based on certain contractual increases, and with the approval of 60 percent of voters, although Ms. Carney said the district will not exceed the cap next year. Capital improvements, such as last year’s voter-approved $78.3 million school bond for infrastructure upgrades, are exempt from the tax levy cap.

Riverhead Central Faculty Association president Barbara Barosa said she was disappointed that she hadn’t learned about the faculty cuts until just before the affected teachers themselves were notified.

She was also concerned that despite a growing student population, the cuts didn’t extend to district administrators.

“If you do the math, we are down, over the last four to five years, over 60 teaching positions in a population that’s growing,” Ms. Barosa said. “It seems the teachers have to teach more with less, while administrators don’t have to do more with less.”

She said teachers are being pushed to their limits by maxed-out class sizes and support that gets weaker each year as cuts are made.

Ms. Barosa said she wanted to see greater equity in the district’s cuts, though she added that she understands the economic reality the schools face because of the tax cap legislation, which she said is the root of the issues facing public education.

“This is the most destructive thing the state has ever passed down,” she said. “People are hearing this, but no one is doing anything about it. When its not your kid’s field trip, or your kid’s athletics, it’s okay. But when it happens to your kid, you’re not going to be happy about it. That’s what’s going to happen going forward.”

And the situation for the district, she said, is only going to get worse.

“This is only the first year of this cap,” Ms. Barosa said. “If you think it’s going to get better, it’s not. We are being set up for failure.”

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