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North Salem Parents Question PQ Class Sizes

NORTH SALEM, N.Y. – Several parents of students at North Salem’s Pequenakonck Elementary School attended the latest Board of Education meeting to protest the proposed class sizes for the fall’s fourth grade.

The action was partly in response to the news that kindergarten enrollment so far is lower than expected, thereby eliminating the need for one kindergarten teacher.

“Now that there are only 27 teachers, why can’t we add another class to fourth grade?” asked parent Carol Ann Hughes . “The money was set aside to be paid to teachers for the coming year.”

The need for one less kindergarten teacher does not indicate that the fourth grade can automatically add a teacher, said Superintendent Kenneth Freeston . If fewer teachers are required, the excess funds will be held over and applied to next year’s budget, he said, explaining that in effect, this returns the money to the taxpayers.

Freeston further explained that the number of registered students will fluctuate during the summer. It is not until late July or August that the numbers are finalized.

Discussion ensued about how class sizes are determined. In a collective bargaining agreement between the North Salem Teachers Association and the Board of Education, a consensus is reached on the maximum number and the optimum number of students in each class, Freeston explained. The numbers vary according to grade.

For kindergarten through second grade, the maximum number is 25 and the optimum is 20. For grades three through twelve, the maximum number is 28 and the optimum number is 25. At this time, 97 children are registered to start fourth grade in the fall, breaking down into three classes of 24 and one of 25. If the number of fourth graders exceeds the optimum number of 100 in September, another teacher will be hired.

“The elementary school has been struggling with chaotic, disruptive and over-sized classes,” said parent Ali Jackson-Jolley in an email. “While the district has the money in the budget for new teacher hires, they maintain that they will keep classes large and fold the money earmarked for teacher salaries back into next year’s budget to offset the deficit.”

Board Member Andrew Brown said it is a political reality that the parents of school children are in the voting minority and the entire town must be taken into consideration.The voting public approved the budget on May 15.

Brown added, “Our spending is limited by the 2% tax levy cap. If you want to do something about this, talk to your legislators. That’s where this begins.”

The Board of Education will meet on Monday, July 2 at 5 p.m. at the North Salem High School Library. The public is welcome.

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