HUDSON–The happiest moment the Hudson School Board has seen in recent months occurred at the close of Monday night’s special meeting, when new board member Justin Cuckerstein resigned effective immediately, having only been appointed earlier this month. The board accepted his resignation with regret.
Mr. Cuckerstein left the board because he got his job back teaching high school social studies. He was one of a dozen people–10 teachers and 2 support staff–rehired after a major layoff this spring thanks to a $580,000 injection of federal emergency aid to education funds given to the district for the specific purpose of creating jobs.
Schools in New York State will get a total of over $607 million, part of $10 billion allocated by Congress and signed into law last month by President Obama. The money, which may only be used for hiring educators, must be used by 2012. It is not part of the administration’s Race to the Top funds, which New York learned last week it also will receive.
School districts around the county and the state laid off teachers at the end of the last school year based on deep cuts in state aid. But Hudson District Superintendent John Howe said that while other districts may choose to wait before taking advantage of the new federal funds, “We’ve been talking about our priorities and what we would do should money become available. Albany has said there is no need to wait. So we’re moving ahead.
“I am very confident that the board made the right decision to bring teachers and support positions back in time for the beginning of school. I’m very happy that people will be back at work,” said Mr. Howe.
The downside is that by 2012, those who were just rehired may lose their jobs again, and then there are the 34 others let go in June who won’t be rehired.
The board discussed whether it would be better to hire 5 teachers instead of 10 and be able to keep them an extra year with the same amount of money, or whether it would be better to hold off on hiring anyone for at least a few months.
“We took a big hit,” said the superintendent. “The money is to save and create jobs. We will use it all to create jobs. The point is to get people in place for the start of school,” said Mr. Howe.
“I’m happy to have my job back. I’ll worry about the short term again next year,” said Mr. Cuckerstein as he left the meeting before a final executive session held to discuss a personnel matter. Having relinquished his place on the board, he is no longer entitled to participate in the boar’d closed-dorr sessions.
Mr. Cuckerstein had recused himself earlier, refraining from voting on the resolution that restored his position. The two rehiring resolutions passed by a 4-to-1 vote, with Peter Meyer voting no. Board member Jeff Otty was absent.
This month the board will accept letters of interest from prospective board members and will then interview candidates for appointment to the seat.
“I fully support the action. We need to do what we did,” said school board president Emil Meister after the meeting.
Also at Monday’s meeting:
*The board gave its approval for the reinstatement of a friends program at John L. Edwards Elementary School that helps kids with emotional adjustment to school and classroom. The superintendent called the program “very valuable, because it supports academic progress.” A grant that had funded it may get renewed, but in the meantime the program will resume when school starts next week.
*Another reinstated staff position involves a tutor for students in school but out of classes on suspension so they don’t fall behind academically. The board is also looking to rehire a guidance counselor, psychologist, art teacher and a foreign language teacher, some with stimulus money.
Board member Elizabeth Faut asked the superintendent whether any of the money could be used to support the academic intervention that will be needed now that the state has lowered the scores students in the 3rd to 8th grades originally received on standardized math tests.
“We are looking to cover that without state money. It’s a challenge to figure out how to meet those needs,” said Mr. Howe.
*Mr. Meyer, disappointed the board had not been more involved in the process of deciding which teachers to rehire, had requested personnel records of the teachers invited back by an administrative team that included the superintendent, assistant superintendent and school principals wanted. To support his request he had with him a book entitled “School Law.”
“According to Section 2.75, school board members have the right to review personnel records to fulfill their duties in regard to hiring,” he said.
Mr. Howe said that since the board was rehiring people who had until recently been employed by the district he had not brought personnel records to the board meeting.
“They want to keep the board blind,” said Mr. Meyer after the meeting.
*Booster Club President Cathy Bartelotta reported that last weekend’s “money drop” fundraising effort had raised $3,400 in bills and between $200 and $300 in coins. She thanked those who worked on the effort and those who contributed. The money will be used to reinstate modified sports program, which was cut last spring.
“The community is rallying. It’s good to see,” said Mr. Meister.
*The board also voted to hire departing John L. Edwards Elementary Principal Carol Gans as an interim principal until December 31 of 2010, while they conduct a search for her successor.
*Next month’s board meetings are September 13 and 27.