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North Salem Parents Sound Off on Class Sizes

NORTH SALEM, N.Y. – Wednesday evening’s work session of the North Salem Board of Education focused on budgetary needs for instructional media, technology co-curricular activities, and athletics.

Two of the main topics during the public-comment portion of the meeting were the termination of a full-time occupational therapist position and fourth-grade class sizes.

Instead of retaining a full-time occupational therapist, Superintendent of Schools Ken Freeston said, next year the district will contract for outside services.

“Should our needs change during the year, we can adjust the contractual services,” he said. “Even if we were to use contracted services for a full five days a week, there is still a budget savings of $50,000.”

On behalf of the North Salem Teachers Association, middle school teacher Ann Sicheri read a statement emphasizing the importance of a full-time occupational therapist. She said it has been a nine-tenths-time – i.e., nearly full-time – job since 1998 and teachers and students heavily rely upon it. It is a necessity, she said, and asked, “Is the district balancing the budget on the backs of these children?”

Describing proposed class sizes, Freeston said they will all remain below the optimal numbers established in the teachers’ contract. Each grade will consist of five classes, except for second grade (four classes of 20 students each) and fourth grade (four classes, divided into three groups of 24 and one of 25). By limiting the fourth grade to four classes, the district will save more than $100,000.

Several parents of future fourth-graders expressed dismay over the class sizes.

“It’s amazing to me how much class size impacts student performance,” said parent Rita Gitlitz.

Referring to a thick stack of papers in her hand she said, “Based on my research the children are more focused, get better grades, better test scores, even better salaries and 401(k)'s later in life when the classes are smaller.

“Twenty-two is better than 25, 19 is better than 22. I’m hoping you are creative enough to find another solution or to come up with $100,000 so that this is recognized as a priority.”

Parent Jennifer Vilkelis spoke first in support of a full-time occupational therapist and then said, “I have here a petition that was signed by half of the third-grade parents, about 47 or 48 people, who are hoping you will return the class size to five classes going into the fourth grade.”

Vilkelis asked Freeston if he wished to see the petition, but he replied that he had already seen it on the website and, in fact, people were signing it “as we speak.”

The next meeting of the Board of Education is scheduled for Wednesday, March 28. The topic will be Finalizing the Budget Scorecard.

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