It is no secret that debate over the upcoming Irvington School Budget has opened a lot of wounds in this tightly-knit community, with some parents venting frustration and anger at Superintendent Matuziak’s administration, and others just as vehemently defending them. As the unfortunate realities of our woeful economic situation force hard choices in the budget process, some voices have called for painful cuts to be made in the one area which they feel does not directly affect the students – the administration. Says Board of Education President Robyn Kerner, “How many times have we heard different people shooting from the hip going, ‘you have so many administrators, what do they all do?’”
Determined to answer that question once and for all, Dr. Matuziak presented a unique opportunity for parents and community members to learn exactly what each member of her administration does on a day to day basis, and how important they are to the education of the district’s students. A crowd of about 50 piled into the Dows Lane multi-purpose room on Tuesday, March 2nd, to listen as all 12 official members of the administration gave a detailed description of their jobs and the role they play in the administration. Aware of the passionate emotions this subject has brought out in the community of late – as well as the heated debate which has sprung up at recent Board meetings (“We’ve had a rough couple of meetings so far this year,” Admitted Kerner). Dr. Matuziak started the evening off with a plea for civility. “We’re all here, hopefully, for the same reason – the children,” She said. “Please, even though you may not agree with something or you have concerns, please be respectful with your comments, because I did not invite this fine group of people here to be attacked.”
With that, the administrators took turns explaining – at some times almost defending – their jobs. In the interest of time, they tried to keep their individual remarks within a three-minute time limit, with District Clerk Elaine Cardea functioning as timekeeper and waving hand signals at the speakers as if she were keeping time at a high school debate tournament. The format allowed for little more than recitations of laundry lists full of job responsibilities, but during the next hour, the immense amount of work that each member of the administration (Principals and Assistant Principals included) does over the course of the school year became apparent.
What was also hammered home was just how much everyone at the front of the room cared about the students placed under their care. Said Dows Lane Assistant Principal Karen Kellogg, “When I think about our students, the first and last question that always comes to my mind is, ‘What is best for our children?’”
The meeting remained civil and genteel, much to Dr. Matuziak’s relief and to the mild surprise of some in the room. The parents and community members in attendance listened closely, some taking notes, others just following along. After each of the 12 had their say, Dr. Matuziak answered questions from a list that had been submitted online beforehand, and then opened the floor to the audience. Most questions were earnest, straightforward, and easily answered to the satisfaction of the questioner. After over thirty minutes of audience questions, Larry Goldfarb, a father of two children currently in the district, expressed what many in the room were feeling. “This is a very good situation we have,” he said, “and to cut it down for a couple hundred thousand dollars, or to hire consultants… we shouldn’t treat these people as paraprofessionals. They’re professionals.”
His comment of support sparked a round of applause from those remaining in the room, and closed the meeting. Afterwards, Board President Kerner was pleased with how the evening had transpired. “I think the more people are educated and the more they understand the roles of everyone,” she said, “then the tension level goes down.”
Dr. Matuziak also felt that the meeting had succeeded in educating some members of the public. “What we tried to show tonight is that there’s a huge connection between the administration’s work and the students’ work if you have an effective school district.” Pressed as to whether she was completely satisfied with the evening, she hedged her bets. “I feel it went well. My big disappointment is that there should have been more people here and some of the people who are the most vocal weren’t in the room.”
She expects, however, that they will be in the room this coming Tuesday, March 9th at 7:30 pm, when she presents her proposed budget for the 2010-11 school year at the next Board of Education meeting in the Campus Presentation Room located at the High School. She hopes that meeting is as civil as this one.