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Pelham Divided on Approval of Schools Budget

PELHAM, N.Y. – While the 2012-13 Pelham school district budget passed with 73 percent of the vote Tuesday, a division still exists between those who voted for and against it.

Some of those who were hoping the more than $65 million budget would be defeated felt that class sizes would be too large. However, while many residents did not feel the budget was perfect, they voted "yes" because they feared the repercussions to the schools in a second proposed budget.

Amy Heese, the Pelham PTA Council president, said she was “very relieved” when the budget passed and added that the school board had a “difficult job this year” because of the property tax levy cap.

“Since the new legislation raised the stakes on how school districts fare after failed votes, I believe many voted 'yes' to protect our proposed level of funding,” Heese said. “In the future, I urge the board to further open the dialogue with their constituents in setting funding priorities.”

Deborah Lowery Knapp formed a group with other parents to vote against the budget because her son, who will be a second-grader at Colonial Elementary School next school year, will “suffer a class-size increase of 50 percent.”

District guidelines say the minimum class size for kindergarten through second grade and third through fifth grades are both 15 pupils, while the maximums are 23 and 26, respectively. Lowery Knapp said her son is currently signed up for a class of 24 because of the collapsing of “three class sections into two larger class sections.”

She was disappointed that the budget passed and thinks it “is a reflection of the community’s desire to have the schools funded, and a fear that if they were not to go along with it, then the board president would make good on his promise to take a 'no' vote as an invitation to make more cuts.”

Lowery Knapp said she is worried about the effect the class size will have on her child’s education. She was also not pleased that “the budget allows for the continued increase of funds to administrative costs while making cuts to teacher positions at the elementary school and vital programming at the high school.”

Jennifer Slattery, mother of a first-grader in the Pelham Union Free School District, also did not agree with “the priorities for how our money is being spent in the budget,” but said she was glad it passed because “the fight around a second budget would be divisive and probably hurt our children more.”

Slattery said she was surprised at the tally for the budget, which was 1,005 for the budget and 372 against.

“But I think that the people who often vote 'no' because the levy increase is so high might have felt more comfortable voting 'yes' this year, since the increase was fairly low,” she said referring to the 2.6 percent tax levy increase.

She did not agree with the elimination of four teacher positions and would have liked to have seen a more public discussion of budget priorities.

“What discussion there was did not inform the process, since the priorities that were loud and clear – from board meetings, neighbor to neighbor meetings and the community forum – weren't reflected in this budget,” she said.

The mother of two was glad to see Madeline Smith and Michael Recca elected to the Board of Education on Tuesday, because she feels they will concentrate on the “community’s educational priorities.”

“As part of their platforms, they have said repeatedly that these things matter to them and that they will work to make sure the community's educational priorities are reflected in how our money is spent in the future,” she said.

Jon Bidwell, a  father of four who has three children in the Pelham school system, thinks the budget passed “because it was under the cap, and a pervading sense of weariness.” He said he was “disappointed that there is no longer-range plan or articulation of objectives and multiyear financial projections.”

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