Following the resignation of a popular physical education teacher, the focus has shifted from athletics to transportation as bus drivers and parents voiced their concern over the elimination of midday universal pre-kindergarten runs in Colonie.
At the South Colonie Central School District budget hearing Tuesday, May 6, at Saddlewood Elementary School, bus drivers asked the board to reevaluate the cuts to the transportation department.
With a reduction in aid of $2.7 million from last year, Colonie has been forced to make reductions in all departments and, for the first time in five years of having state aid reduced, made cuts to the transportation department.
“We’ve avoided making cuts to transportation that could have been made two or three years ago. We avoided it as long as we could,” said Superintendent Jonathan Buhner.
Although 23 drivers will be reduced to part time status, they will be able to keep their benefits. The drivers are having their hours reduced from eight hours to six hours by eliminating the midday run.
Drivers also expressed concerns that staffing cuts were being made to every other department in the district, while administration has been maintaining their salaries and not cutting anyone.
“You took a 4.5 percent pay raise last year. Basically people are making six figures and now we, as the working hands-on people, are suffering with our jobs,” said veteran bus driver Jack Pulver.
Sherri Fisher, Assistant Superintendent for Management Services and Strategic Planning, said that was not the case.
“You raised this point at the last meeting, and my response to you is that we took a zero percent increase, not the 4.5 percent increase that you maintain. We are cutting administrative positions,” said Fisher.
Pulver insisted the six-figure salary of the administration member being cut this year could be used to pay the salary of a few bus drivers. Buhner explained that the size of the administration has been steadily reduced since the financial hardships for the district began five years ago.
“We’ve cut 20 percent of our administrative/supervisory staff members over the last five years. … All of our jobs have changed because of these cuts. It’s not perfect, but I’m not going to stand up here and not tell you we have cut a fifth of our staff and our jobs are changing,” said Buhner.
One of the only people that spoke and was not employed by the school was a Colonie man who gave an emotional speech about how he was not looking forward to telling his 3-year-old daughter she could not attend school next fall.
“I was hoping to have my 3-year-old go to UPK next year. … I don’t know quite how to do it now. How do I tell my 3-year-old, ‘I’m sorry you can’t go to school next year. We have to figure out something else’?” said Patrick Bender.
“I hear the passion in the bus drivers’ voices, and I hear the passion in the teachers’ voices and it makes me, as a young parent, really excited to be a part of this community. But I’m tired of hearing, ‘Oh, we’ve been through five years of hell trying to dig out of this hole.’ If I didn’t get my job back in 2009, do I still complain about it now in 2014? I move on,” he added.
On May 20, school district residents will vote on the budget. If the budget does not pass, the board can make revisions or submit the same budget to be voted on a second time. If the vote does not pass a second time, they will go to a contingency budget, which means the school would lose $1.78 million in funding and would not be able to raise the tax cap.
Also on the ballot is an election for two open five-year terms on the school Board. Andre Ellman and Patricia Jarvis are running against incumbent David Kiehle for one open seat. Incumbent James Ryan is running uncontested for the second open seat.
Kiehle, the school board vice president, was first elected in 2009 and has lived in the district 43 years. He worked as math teacher at Shaker for 39 years, as well as working as an adjunct math professor at Siena. Kiehle is a former president of the North Colonie Teachers Association and a member of the Town of Colonie Community Partnership. He and his wife’s two children are Colonie Central High School graduates.
Treasurer of the Colonie Junior Raiders, Ellman is running for his first term on the board. He has lived in the district for nearly one decade. Ellman is the director of business development at Mercer International. Ellman’s son, Aidan, is a fourth grader at Forest Park Elementary School. Ellman is also the treasurer and fundraising coordinator of Colonie Central High School Touchdown Club.
Living in the district for 36 years, Patricia A. Jarvis is also running for her first term on the board. Jarvis retired at the end of April from ValueOptions in Latham. She has worked in many different fields of health care and insurance. Jarvis volunteered with South Colonie Friends of Music. She currently has two grandchildren attending South Colonie, and her son also went to school in the district.