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Pelham Parents Divided on Class Size in Budget

PELHAM, N.Y. – With only a few days left until the May 15 Pelham schools budget vote, parents are divided on the vote due to the hotly-debated issue of class size . Both sides are forming groups and utilizing the 363-member Friends of Pelham Schools (FOPS) Facebook page to voice their opinions on the matter.

Deborah Lowery Knapp has been vocal on the topic through FOPS because her son, who is going to be a second-grader at Colonial Elementary School next school year, will “suffer a class size increase of 50 percent,” she said in an email to The Daily Pelham .

The post she wrote on the FOPS page concerning class size, in which she urged fellow parents to vote against the budget, has garnered more than 30 comments since Wednesday at 1:02 p.m. The discussion has separated the people who stand for and against the budget.

District guidelines state that the minimum class size for K-second grade and three to fifth grade are both 15 pupils, while the maximum is 23 and 26, respectively. Lowery Knapp said that her son is currently signed up for a class of 24 due to the collapsing of “three class sections into two larger class sections.”

“With every additional student in a room comes an additional set of learning needs,” said the mother of two when asked why she was not supporting the budget. “Behavioral issues are magnified and become more disruptive than they would have been had children been able to receive more individual attention,” she said.

She and her husband emailed fellow Colonial parents and after receiving similar opinions from many, she said they formed Parents for Teachers First to advocate “for a NO vote” on this year's school budget. In the 2012-2013 school budget, three elementary school positions were cut and a fourth was not filled after a teacher resigned in order to reduce the budget and comply with the New York State mandated tax cap.

“The group is growing rapidly,” said Knapp, adding that she does not know the exact number of group members because she has been “responding to emails nonstop.” The Colonial mother said she plans on contacting more parents who are affected by class size.

However, every Pelham PTA president and the four candidates for the Pelham Board of Education have said they support the more than $65 million budget.

In their final candidates forum Wednesday night, Paul Prencis , Michael Recca and Madeline Smith , Christine Rosskopf urged residents to support the budget.

All 12 PTA presidents from each Pelham school, including Pelham PTA Council President Amy Heese, urged Pelham and Pelham Manor residents to vote for the budget and said why voting “no” would have negative effects on Pelham schools in a letter sent to The Daily Pelham .

“The second budget put up for vote would likely contain further cuts to our educational program in order to ensure passage,” said the presidents. “A failure on the second vote would automatically yield a zero percent budget increase, which would require draconian cuts to achieve due to contractual salary and benefit increases.”

Those same sentiments were echoed by board member Will Cavanagh, who attended the candidates forum Wednesday, and said “it’s likely that the board will come up with a second budget that’s lower – not higher.”

“I would be surprised if the board had called for a higher budget for a second vote because the consequences are catastrophic if the second vote loses and we end up with a zero budget increase,” said Cavanagh of a possible $1.4 million dollar reduction in expenses.

In order for the $65,560,607 budget to be passed on May 15, it must be passed by a simple majority vote from Pelham and Pelham Manor residents.

If the budget, which shows a 2.6 percent tax levy increase , fails, the district may resubmit the original budget or a revised budget to voters on June 19 or adopt a contingent budget with a zero percent tax levy increase.

If the budget were to fail again, the board must adopt a contingent budget with a zero percent tax levy increase.

“We don’t believe for a minute that this community will let that happen,” said Lowery Knapp of a second budget being voted down. The 2012-2013 Pelham Schools budget vote and the board of education elections will take place from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. May 15 in the Pelham Memorial gymnasium.

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