Teaneck Schools Trying to Do More with Less
Voters rejected last year's proposed budget, forcing administrators to layoff more than 70 employees, including 30 teachers.
Teaneck Public Schools started the new school year with more than 70 fewer employees, larger class sizes, cuts to course offerings and staff taking on added responsibilities.
Of the 77 fewer district employees, at least 30 teachers were laid off. Administrative positions also took a hit with the elimination of an assistant superintendent, director of community relations and director of guidance. The supervisor of world language, business and practical arts was also cut, Interim Superintendent Barbara Pinsak said in an interview during the first week of the new school year.
The Board of Education had to cut $6.1 million after voters rejected the school budget in April.
The staff cuts, Pinsak said, is like nothing she has seen in her public education career.
"I've never seen this kind of crisis in education," she said.
Board of Education President Ardie Walser said the district merged positions and would work to reorganize school administration in the new school year. He could not provide specifics of a possible reorganization ahead of BoE action.
"People are expecting more and we are going to have to give them more with less–literally," Walser, said.
This year, the math supervisor and science supervisor were combined into one position that also oversees K-12 technology and library services, and No Child Left Behind funds. The responsibilities of director of the guidance were added to the director of special services position, Pinsak said.
In the case of World Language, however, Mandarin classes were completely eliminated and class sizes have increased in other language offerings because fewer sections are offered, according to Pinsak. Advanced Placement and honors classes will see larger class sizes, as well.
A school-wide "Freshmen Seminar" was also cut.
"We cut freshman seminar, which was an introduction to life at the high school for 9th graders so they will see different programming and different classes," Pinsak said.
The Industrial Education and Technology department was cut, including TV Production and Filmmaking, the Consumer Home/Automotive Repair Technology and Computer Drafting courses. There were two teachers who taught five periods in this department, according to Pinsak.
"We had kids in those classes, there's no doubt about it," Pinsak said. The number of enrollment in the classes last year was not available.
Freshmen athletics were also eliminated, but Pinsak said some freshman could participate at the junior varsity or varsity level.
Pinsak said coaches at the JV and varsity levels volunteered to try to arrange games with other schools for freshman and fundraising to cover bus costs, however, the details are still being worked out.
Teaneck High School was not the only school to start with less.
Pinsak sent a letter to parents over the summer saying there would no longer be bus aides for elementary school students, however, aides were hired to assist temporarily in the first seven days of the school year. No bus aides were cut to kindergarten students.
Other employee cuts were also seen in the gifted program, the media center, custodial staff and literacy coaching positions, Pinsak said.
"I am most concerned about when we had to reduce programs that our kids enjoyed," Pinsak said. "I am trying to keep my focus on what we have, rather than what we don't have."
Patricia Phillips, co-president of the PTSO at Teaneck High School, said she is not worried about the quality of education.
"At the end of the day, did the kids learn the material? You have to somehow measure what you are doing in the classroom to see how effective the teaching is," Phillips said.
With all of the cuts, reorganization, loss of teachers and changes this year, Pinsak said everything has been impacted, including her days, which she said are longer, with more work to get done over the weekend.
The added hours, however, have not taken a toll on her.
"I think a good test of me and it's also an opportunity to see what I can do and see what I am made of. I love the district and my heart is in the district," Pinsak said.
She also said she has not received any complaints from employees about more work.
If more money were available in the future for the district, Pinsak would not be so quick to bring back any programs before doing a needs-assessment first.
"I wouldn't be so hasty to add something back because we have the money. Its critical that we use the resources, people and money really carefully," Pinsak said. "Anything we do moving forward will be done with a lot of care."
The only hire Pinsak said she planned to make was a new business administrator to replace Sean Gately, who resigned over the summer. At a Sept. 22 Board of Education meeting, Robert Finger, a Lakewood public schools business administrator, was hired as the district's next business administrator. Finger will start Nov. 22 and earn $165,000 a year, pending a standard review by the county schools superintendent.
Pinsak said that she does not anticipate more layoffs this year. The district was still revieiwing how to use $252,486 in federal funds from the Education Jobs Act.
"I believe that, since we have an uncertain future, we must live within our budget for this year and be prudent with any funds received," Pinsak said in a Sept. 22 e-mail.
Although the district made dramatic cuts, Pinsak remains optimistic about the school year and was pleased with the opening last week.
"If I can lead the district as is after all the rewards and friendships I have made—and I can say at the end of the year that I have done all I can to educate the kids and keep them safe–I will be content," she said.
"Of course our focus now is making the best year for the kids," Pinsak said.
This story is part of a nationwide Patch series probing the economy's effect on local schools. For more information on the project, click here.