Herricks board moves to hire one assistant principal, focus on 8 a.m. start time

James Galloway

Herricks Board of Education has decided to hire one assistant principal next year rather than three, freeing up funds to prioritize an 8 a.m. high school start time for 2016 and hire an additional staff member for the facilities department.

The decision, which came at the district’s school board meeting Thursday and was first discussed at last month’s board meeting, marks the sole diversion by the board from the recommendations included in the superintendent’s 2015-16 budget memo.

The memo’s 13 other recommendations, which would mostly add teachers and restore programs cut during the economic downturn, received unanimous support from the board as it works to develop a budget proposal to put before voters in May.

Moving the high school start time to 8 a.m. from 7:30 a.m. has received a wave of support from the board and Superintendent of Schools John Bierwirth at the district’s last two board meetings. Though it was not appropriated for in the budget memo, it was listed in the memo as the “next highest priority.”

“All the research…suggests that if you start at a more reasonable hour, children perform better,” Bierwirth said at the last board meeting.

To cover the cost of the change, which school officials say would require a one-time investment of $160,000 and an estimated yearly cost of $122,000, the board opted to hire one elementary school assistant principal, who would work at Denton Avenue School, in lieu of the three allocated for in the budget memo.

“I definitely don’t want to spend $350,000 on three people,” said board Trustee Brian Hassan, referring to the estimated cost of the assistant principals. “I’m a big proponent for changing the starting time of the school, and I also know a that another grounds person would be another $75,000 – I think this is the area I want to cut to fund those two areas.”

The assistant principals were budgeted into recommendations so they could assume some of the increased workload of the elementary school principals, which increased significantly due to changes in state-mandated teacher evaluations, school officials said. The memo says the board “had been studying this issue for some time.”

The board opted to move forward with one assistant principal at an estimated cost of $145,000 for Denton, the largest of the three elementary schools, and continue with the “lead” teachers, who act as part-time administrators, at Center Street and Searingtown Schools.

“I’m 100 percent in favor of creating the one position at Denton,” Board of Education President James Gounaris said. “I’m with Brian in trying to use that additional money for another bus, another grounds man or starting that high school starting time in September.”

Bierwirth had said previously that the elementary schools would “welcome the help” but were not recommending the positions be included in the budget.

The funds allocated in the budget memo toward the assistant principal positions would instead be used to buy one bus in addition to the two replacement buses appropriated for in the memo. It would also free up funds for an additional facilities employee.

Bierwirth said that changing the high school start time would require two additional buses for the fleet, and the board chose to purchase one this year and one next year.

“We had two new buses in the budget – no matter what we do, there’s two buses to need to be replaced,” Bierwirth said. “What we’ve decided to do now is get three of them this year and one a year from now so that we would by fall of 2016 have replaced the two buses that are the oldest and in the worst shape and have two additional buses.”

The budget memo included hiring one groundskeeper for next year to make up for positions cut during the economic downturn, but Hassan said the grounds grew could use additional help.

Bierwirth said the board had yet to determine where the facilities employee would be assigned and whether the position would be permanent.

“That’s open to further discussion as to where exactly that would be assigned,” Bierwirth said.

Among the other recommendations okayed by the board were contracting a public information service at a yearly cost of $40,000, increasing the annual technology budget by $150,000, restoring coaching positions and restoring intramurals.

The board quickly supported the memo’s first four recommendations, which called for a combined increase of 14 teaching positions throughout the district. The teachers would allow Herricks to reinstate the class-size guidelines it suspended four years ago due to budget cuts.

Both Bierwirth and Gounaris have said reducing class sizes is their top priority for 2015-16.

“I would say that that’s right at the top of the list,” Bierwirth said in a previous interview. “That’s been a priority for the board; it’s been a priority for the community.”

Like other school districts, Herricks is formulating its budget without projections state aid projections from the governor. Cuomo has bundled a large increase in education funding to the legislature’s approval of a series of education reforms, including teacher evaluations based more heavily on standardized test scores.

The state has until April 1 to pass an on-time budget.   

Bierwirth said the district was conservative in its projections and that the majority of district funding comes local taxes, allowing Herricks to move forward with a budget outline without the projections.

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