Cuts Create Tension

LAKEWOOD – Tension is high when it comes to debating the 2013-14 Southwestern Central School District budget.

On April 16, the school district’s board of education heard from Mary Jane Price, Southwestern Teachers Association president, about the proposed cuts in teacher positions in the 2013-14 budget proposal. The budget proposes a staff reduction of one full-time equivalent administrator and 5.5 full-time teaching positions.

After the meeting, Price then addressed a letter, dated April 17, to David Turnbull, Southwestern Central School District board of education member. In the letter, Price accuses Turnbull of being rude and disrespectful during the meeting.

“Several members have approached me today regarding the smirking and eye rolling they observed you display as I was speaking on behalf of the union,” she states. “It was insulting to me personally, to the people who are losing their jobs particularly and to their peers who were there in support of their colleagues. Such cavalier and demeaning behavior on behalf of a member of the board of education, especially in that setting, is extremely disturbing.”

On Tuesday during a Southwestern Central School District board of education work session, Turnbull responded to Price’s letter with a written statement he read during the meeting. He said Price’s letter can only be characterized as a personal attack on his character and integrity.

“I want to state unequivocally that I did not smirk or roll my eyes at you (Price) during your presentation at last week’s board meeting,” he said. “Even if I had wanted to smirk at you, I am physically unable to do so as a result of permanent paralysis on one side of my face that allows for very limited facial movement or expression.”

Turnbull said he wouldn’t disrespect the teacher’s union because his father was a teacher in Jamestown for 35 years, he received his teaching credentials in social studies and his wife is a teacher at Jamestown Community College.

“I have many friends that are teachers in this school system, and I have the utmost respect for all of our teachers here at Southwestern Central School District,” he said. “I do not take lightly any of the cuts that this board has had to consider over the last several years.”

After Turnbull read his statement, several members of the board verbally supported Turnbull as a board member, and said none of them enjoy having to cut teacher positions. Price did not attend the work session meeting Tuesday.

Later in the meeting when discussing the positions being cut in the budget, James Butler, board president, said no one enjoys having to make tough decisions when it comes to people losing their job.

“I’m seriously getting tired of it,” he said about the board having to cut positions years after year.

The school board then passed a resolution to abolish positions: one FTE elementary music; one FTE high school social studies; one FTE high school science; one FTE high school English; one FTE foreign language; .5 pre-k; and one FTE administrator. Butler said, after the meeting, of the positions being cut, one person is retiring, one is taking a leave of absence and four people will be laid off.

Maureen Donahue, district superintendent, said the district has eliminated 26.1 positions since 2006.