The Pine Bush School Board started its budget preparations last Tuesday night with the introduction of its preliminary staffing, technology and instructional budgets.
Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Donna Geidel said the preliminary instructional budget might see an increase of more than $1 million. The district’s 2018-19 budget is approximately $116.2 million.
In special education, Geidel recommended the creation of a new Collaborative Academic Social Emotional Teaching and Learning Environment (CASTLE) class at Pine Bush Elementary (PBE) and the addition of a special education teacher, two teaching assistants and a behavioral specialist to staff it. In the CASTLE program, students with severe delays in social emotional regulation work within the general education curriculum and receive small group instruction with positive reinforcement.
Geidel also recommended the addition of a school psychologist at Pine Bush High School (PBHS) and an assistant director of special programs to assist with committee of pre-school special education, out-of-district placements and the coordination of a new PK-2 social-emotional learning (SEL) program. Geidel said the additional staff and program is needed as students’ counseling needs continue to increase at all levels.
“This is a feature of our times, that our kids need more support and our families need more support,” Geidel said. “So, a program like [SEL] would establish expectations for students and would give them tools in their tool box for resilience, perseverance and self-regulation.”
At the elementary level, Geidel recommended the elimination of two elementary school teachers due to declining enrollments, the addition of an academic intervention services teacher at Pakanasink Elementary and the addition of four new art clubs.
Geidel recommended the addition of an English as a new language (ENL) teacher at Circleville Middle School (CVMS) to accommodate the increased ENL population, the addition of a part-time art teacher at Crispell Middle School (CMS) to pilot an advanced art class for eighth grade and the addition of a coding club at CVMS.
Geidel also asked the board to consider the addition of seventh grade Spanish in both middle schools, which would require the addition of between three and four Spanish teachers. It can be difficult to find Spanish teachers to hire, and the addition of the offering could create scheduling issues due to decreased elective offerings.
The board was split as to whether or not the school should add seventh grade Spanish. Some board members said foreign language is a valuable skill and students should start learning it earlier, while others said it wasn’t worth decreasing elective offerings in other areas, such as computer science.
“We really need to prepare these kids to be world citizens, and part of our culture, part of our reality is these kids really need to be able to communicate and language is a really important part of that,” board member Dori Johnson said. “And we all know the earlier you start the easier it’s gonna be.”
Board vice president Gretchen Meier said while she agrees foreign languages are important for students to learn, the district should give more consideration to technology classes with its limited resources and students’ limited class schedules.
“Both of my kids are in engineering fields, and both of them would much rather see computer sciences, computer language and computer programming,” Meier said. “I have to support the technology that will aid them in the future.”
At the high school level, Geidel recommended adding a physical education teacher to reduce class sizes, adding several club advisors and adding a new advanced placement computer science two class.
At the district level, Geidel recommended adding a girls’ varsity golf team, adding a unified bowling team, implementing a Big Brothers, Big Sisters mentoring program at PBHS, CMS and PBE, purchasing a new K-2 SEL program and participating in Education Elements Orange County Consortium for Personalized Learning.
The preliminary technology budget will include funding for an additional instructional technologist and anticipated expenses from the state education department’s proposed regulations to strengthen the security of personally identifiable information for students and school personnel.
Director of Educational Technology John Hicks said the unfunded mandate will support the Family Bill of Rights and Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, require annual training for employees, provide language for contracts with third party dealers that have access to this information and adopt National Institute for Standard frameworks.
Hicks said parts of the mandate are still being defined, so he is unsure what the increase in costs will be.
“There are pieces of this understand, there are pieces of this that are changing, pieces we don’t understand,” Hicks said. “So, know this is going to be an additional cost for the district; we don’t know what it is.”
The preliminary operations and maintenance budget will see an increase of more than $100,000, a minimal increase of 1 percent. The increase includes increases in salaries, equipment, utilities, repairs and maintenance and other miscellaneous services.