Port Chester had another long, emotional discussion tonight about school budget cuts. This time parents spoke against the planned layoffs of as many as 14 teachers who provide reading assistance in classrooms across the district. Those cuts are envisioned as a preferable alternative to the earlier plan to cut back to half-day kindergarten — an idea that brought out equally passionate protests at a meeting March 8.
The latest cut is smaller in terms of money and layoffs; but it’s costly to the academic program, said parents and teachers during a board meeting at the middle school. They questioned the effect it would have on test scores, special-needs children, and older students who need reading skills to learn advanced subjects. The school board members and administrators blamed the tax cap and Albany politics for putting the schools, and schoolteachers, in the desperate situation of having to cut into the academic program. Board member Carolee Brakewood, describing reading teachers as the current victims of the budget crisis, said it was like having to choose which body part to cut off.
Children spoke out too, including Jonathan Cisneros, a fourth-grader at John F. Kennedy Magnet School who went to that school’s Early Learning Center for kindergarten and first grade. Jonathan (pictured at left, with his mother Carla Espinoza) is an avid reader of Harry Potter and Greek mythology, and he delivered a very elegant speech. Some of his comments:
Good evening. I’m Jonathan Cisneros … I have loved this school since the beginning when I studied in the ELC program in kindergarten. This school has taught me many things, but one thing stands above all others. This school has taught me to love learning. Everybody in the school has helped me, encouraged me and taught me to read the best that I can.
He spoke about being in school “before this catastrophe started” and worried about whether others would have the opportunity to learn in their native language of Spanish, as he did. “Also, what about the kids that need extra help?” he said. He worried whether his teacher would be laid off, saying, “this is her first year and maybe her last.”
So please, hear my voice, I’m asking you, I’m even begging you to help us. I thought you were supposed to help the kids. Because if you are, right now has got to be a good time to start.