Tonawanda News — Dozens of teachers flooded the North Tonawanda Board of Education meeting Wednesday, some of whom voiced their concerns over another round of potential cuts, amid union negotiations and as the district works its way toward a finalized budget that will be presented to voters in May.
The district is currently facing a $2 million budget deficit that will likely lead to reductions in staffing and programs, a trend in recent years, that can be at least partly attributed to a state-mandated tax cap pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the loss of state aid and the ever-rising costs of health care for district employees.
Bonnie Zimmerman, union president of North Tonawanda United Teachers, framed those cuts as creating an educational environment that has turned away students with psychological needs while eliminating electives to such an extent that many in high school are left with two to four study hall sessions each day.
Zimmerman, who is a middle school physical education teacher and has been employed in the district for 26 years, said the union has gone 34 months without a contract, and while she understands that “when there’s shrinking enrollment you have to look at staffing numbers” she noted that ill-advised cuts in the past, particularly to elective courses, have left many children with waning options.
She urged the board to look at other Western New York school districts for more creative answers to the pressing budgetary issues that may lead to slashing programs and positions again this year.
“I have to believe in my heart that we all want the best for students in North Tonawanda,” she said, addressing board members and administrators. “For this to happen they must have a variety of courses to choose from.”
In a rebuttal, board member Colleen Osborn said union members aren’t the only one left displeased by the programs and staff cuts initiated since 2010, but that the economic realities the district is facing under the state tax cap has necessitated many of them.